SANAA (Reuters) - Armed Yemeni tribesmen blew up an empty oil pipeline in Yemen's oil-producing Maarib province last week, officials said on Saturday, in a blow to the impoverished Arab nation's bid to get the key industry back up and running.
The Thursday attack came days after a Yemeni official told Reuters the government was considering a military operation to wrest control of the area from tribesmen and repair its main pipeline in the Maarib oil fields, which has been shut since mid-March when tribesmen attacked it.
The lack of flow from the main pipeline had forced Yemen's 150,000 barrels per day (bpd) Aden refinery to halt operations -- a financial blow to the Arab world's poorest country. The refinery restarted two weeks ago when Saudi-donated crude arrived in the port.
Government and opposition officials blamed each other for the Thursday attack on a secondary pipeline, which had gone empty since the March attack on Maarib's main supply route.
Yemen is reliant on fuel imports for more than half of its needs. The disruption of output at the Aden refinery has led to widespread fuel shortages and forced the country to increase fuel imports when it can least afford to.
Political leaders both for and against Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh's embattled government have accused each other of backing armed tribesmen to act as saboteurs.
Saleh, now in hospital in Riyadh after an apparent assassination attempt, has faced months of unrest after a wave of mass pro-democracy protests spread across the impoverished state neighboring No.1 oil exporter Saudi Arabia.
The halt in output of 110,000 bpd of light, sweet Yemeni crude after the March attack has further tightened global supplies of easily refined oil after light Libyan crude exports were stopped in February.
(Reporting by Mohamed Sudam and Mohammed Ghobari, Editing by Humeyra Pamuk and Hugh Lawson)