Amid worsening human situation in Sa’adaGovernment continues dispatching more troops and artillery [Archives:2008/1153/Front Page]

May 8 2008

By: Mohammed Bin Sallam
SA'ADA, May 7 ) The human situation is worsening throughout Sa'ada governorate as the army and Houthis continue to entrench in valleys and highlands, preparing for further fighting, local sources said, adding that citizens began gathering food and water and digging shelters, predicting worse conditions.

“The authority is dispatching more troops and artillery on the highway to Sa'ada city, particularly in the areas of Qar Al-Adhl, Ashash Al-Salem, Beid Khals and Ja'amalat Talh, which means that it is preparing for a new war,” said Houthi representative Sheikh Saleh Habra. “The army is currently besieging some Houthi strategic positions in the Masa'aba and Al-Sari villages and keeping farmers off their lands. It warned citizens of villages in the vicinity of Houthi positions to evacuate their homes.”

The government and Houthis exchanged threats about escalating clashes, notably in the Haidan district, where bloody confrontations left dozens on both sides killed or injured, according to Sa'ada sources, who added that the exact number of casualties couldn't be determined due to conflicting data they obtained from both sides.

The Yemeni Ministry of Defense signaled that the government would do whatever is necessary to reinforce law and order in the restive governorate, while Houthi field leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi warned the army against escalating operations, holding the government accountable for the renewed tension.

Houthi sources said that military forces have besieged Malha village since Sunday and struck it with mortars, pointing out that other army personnel launched repeated strikes on Haidan's Juma'a Bin Fadhel area.

According to a statement released by Abdulmalik Al-Houthi's office, other army units are randomly attacking Al-Anad, Qahza and nearby areas. “The same areas suffered similar offensives Saturday evening,” the statement reads.

It continued that the army struck Al-Masa'aba and Al Sari areas of the Sihar district the following day, and as a result citizens including women and children remain stranded inside their homes until Sunday evening. Security checkpoints set up on the highway and other roads leading to Sa'ada city prevented citizens' entry or exit.

The statement indicated that the army lockdown on citizens hampered transportation of foodstuffs to fighting-affected victims, adding that excessive mobilization of military troops and artillery will not help bring peace to the war-ravaged areas. It described such mobilization as a plot by some military commanders and war brokers to fuel fighting between the government and Houthis, and foil efforts expended by the Qatari mediation team to reconcile both conflicting sides.

Political escalation:

The escalating military operations in the restless governorate are accompanied by political escalation, as the army-affiliated quoted a defense ministry official as holding Houthis accountable for hampering the Qatari mediation efforts, warning that Houthis' disrespect to the Doha-brokered peace deal may compel the government to use force in order to reinforce law and order in the governorate.

Abdulmalik Al-Houthi accused the government of violating the ceasefire agreement both sides signed in Doha, holding it accountable for renewed tension and clashes between his supporters and the army.

“We and the army reached and signed a ceasefire agreement in Qatar but the authority doesn't respect the agreement,” Al-Houthi said, adding that “some government officials don't want peace because they benefit from ongoing fighting.” He also blamed the government on repeated attacks that began in Haidan, Safia and other areas where fighter jets, tanks and other heavy weaponry were used to strike citizens, describing such operations as “unjustified,” which contribute further to fomenting tension.

Al-Houthi denied the government charge that Houthis are responsible for the Bin Salem Mosque blast Friday which killed 16 worshippers and injured four dozen, saying “the authority has a certain benefit related with the timing of the blast that hit worshippers as they were leaving the mosque following Friday prayers.”

He accused some government officials, which he described as “enemies of peace,” of being behind repeated blasts that targeted Hedaiban and Bin Salem mosques, as well as Sa'ada city's Great Mosque. “These irresponsible officials want a fifth war between the Yemeni army and Houthis to break out,” the Houthi field leader added.

With regard to reconciliation efforts exerted by the new presidential committee, comprised of the Qatari mediation team and Yemeni dignitaries, various media sources reported that the committee has been meeting with the parties involved in the Sa'ada turmoil since it arrived in the governorate on Sunday.

The sources continued that the committee made the necessary arrangements to start implementing the Doha-brokered ceasefire agreement. They did not indicate what progress has been achieved by the mediation committee, particularly as the security situation in Sa'ada continues worsening and more sporadic confrontations occur.

Chaired by Parliament member Ali Abdullah Abu Holeiqa, the new presidential committee brings the number of mediation committees that intervened to conciliate between the army and Houthis to three since the fighting first broke out in June 2004. In the past, two mediation committees, one parliamentary and the other presidential, were mandated to end the Sa'ada fighting but reached no tangible results, notably the latter, chaired by Shoura Council member Mohammed Saleh Qara'a, which President Ali Abdullah Saleh sacked on April 21 this year, having realized that the committee reached no positive result.

Human rights abuses unveiled

According to a recent report released in 2007 by the Yemen Human Rights Observatory (YHRO), the Sa'ada fighting left behind numerous tragedies. Citizens in Sa'ada suffered several human rights abuses and poor security, with more than 50,000 people displaced from their homes, epidemics and communicable diseases proliferated throughout the governorate and students absent from schools.

The report said that 110 homes were changed into barracks and havens for army personnel, 74 homes were partially damaged and 79 completely destroyed. Even mosques, health units and schools were damaged or transformed into military barracks.

It went on to say that many Zaidi muslims were subjected to arrest or forcible disappearance and up to 286 people have been missing since the fighting broke out, adding that security arrest campaigns targeted Zaidis in other governorates including Sana'a, Amran, Hajjah, Dhamar and Hodeidah. Out of at least 2,000 arrested citizens, 370 were detained until December 2007. Some of were imprisoned for over a year without being referred to the prosecution.

The report disclosed that some of those jailed over alleged connections with the Sa'ada fighting suffered psychological torture, inhumane treatment and miserable jail conditions. It pointed out that Hashim Hajar, one of the victims who suffered the most in security jails, was not allowed to receive medical treatment due to his health problems, despite repeated judiciary orders and human rights groups' appeals to the relevant authorities to sympathize with Hajar and allow him to get medication. Hajar died in prison in late December 2007 as a result of his chronic liver problems.