15 troops killed, 32 others injured in Sa’ada clashes [Archives:2007/1021/Front Page]

February 1 2007

Mohamed Bin Sallam
SA'ADA, Jan. 30 – Fifteen troops were killed and 32 others injured as armed confrontations between government forces and Al-Houthi followers became fiercer this week, spreading in various parts of Sa'ada governorate, located 254 km. north of Sana'a. Most violent confrontations took place in the areas of Nishur, Al-Saifi and Al-Ammar districts, official sources said Tuesday.

Victims of previous clashes within the past few days were transferred to several Sa'ada hospitals, including many Al-Houthi supporters killed or injured in the clashes. Yemen Times sources in Sa'ada said the situation is dangerous and fighting is spreading to different parts of the governorate, while government forces are using various combat tactics and weapons, including tanks and specialized armed forces.

Local sources couldn't specify the number of Al-Houthi followers and locals killed in the most recent clashes. According to them, authorities prevented transferring yesterday's civilian casualties to the main government hospital, in addition to preventing media personnel from reaching those areas where fighting is occurring.

There are conflicting views on the real reasons leading to the bloody clashes between government troops and Al-Houthi supporters. Government sources say Al-Houthi followers attacked a military camp and intercepted the advancing military forces.

However, Member of Parliament Yahya Badraddin Al-Houthi, who is currently in Germany, sent a letter to the Yemen Times describing the events in different terms. “The official media doesn't publish correct stories.

What happened is that government forces used new sites atop area mountains, which Al-Houthi tribesmen previously dominated. The latter attempted to prevent the former from dominating these sites and asked them to leave the area in a reasonable amount of time,” the letter read.

“The government forces refused to do so, and instead, pointed their heavy and light arms at Al-Houthi followers and opened fire, killing one of them. Reacting to the attack, Al-Houthi supporters returned fire on the government forces, killing 12 troops and injuring 25 others. They forced the remaining government troops from the area and took control of the military equipment and artillery that was abandoned.”

In 2005, local authorities led by Sa'ada Governor Yahya Al-Shami agreed on a truce with Al-Houthi followers, defining several locations, mainly on mountaintops, to be controlled by Al-Houthi followers, led by Abdulmalik Al-Houthi and local administration, without military inference.

According to the MP, Al-Shami tried to maintain the truce and had warned authorities of the consequences of heavy army presence in the area, but the army disregarded the warning, instead dominating the region with troops and equipment.

Some Al-Houthi followers declare that they are ready to end the confrontations between themselves and the government if the latter withdraws its forces from the area. The tribesmen pointed out that they appoint Sa'ada's governor to form a committee to investigate the most recent clashes.

Al-Houthi followers appealed to all of those with clear consciences to alleviate their suffering and help them escape such persistent sedition.

In his address opening Monday's 11th Armed Forces Conference, President Ali Abdullah Saleh said that all terrorist elements supporting Abdulmalik Al-Houthi must surrender their heavy and light arms to the governorate's leadership, adding, “We're not to be blamed for the consequences after this warning.”

Speaking via the ruling party mouthpiece Al-Motamar Net, an official source said, “A committee made up of religious scholars and social personalities is attempting to persuade the mutineers, led by Abdulmalik Al-Houthi, to stop attacking the army, leave their sites and surrender their arms as an enforcement of the president's warning. Via a press statement, the president informed the followers that if they wish to express their political affiliation or views, they can do so by forming a political party as per the Yemeni Constitution.”

In a press statement, Abdulmalik Al-Houthi urged all Yemenis to stand by the oppressed in the face of corrupt authorities who desire more bloodshed. “The military campaign that began this week is part of a series of aggressive acts and oppression authorities are exercising against Sa'ada and Amran locals.”

The bloody confrontations between Yemeni government troops and Al-Houthi supporters began in June 2004. Hussein Al-Houthi, the group's leader at that time, was killed by the army in September 2004; hence, his brother Abdulmalik has taken over the leadership since then.

Hussein Al-Houthi was a founding member of the Islamist Haq Party, which was established after 1990's National Unity, but he later made an alliance with the ruling party, which supported him to establish a religious center in Sa'ada to teach the Twelvist Shi'ite sect. The center remained open until June 2004 when trouble began due to ideological differences.

In that year, Shi'ite cleric Hussein Badraddin Al-Houthi, brother of the group's current leader, ordered his followers to revolt against the Yemeni government, which had accused him of sedition, forming an illegal armed group and inciting anti-American sentiment.