Awareness of Danger of Religious Schools RisesGovernment Pledges to end military operations in Sa’ada soon [Archives:2004/753/Front Page]

July 8 2004

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
It is expected that the military operation against cleric Hussein al-Hawthi and his followers in Sa'ada will be finished soon, a high-ranking security official told Yemen Times.
The minister of the interior told the cabinet on Tuesday 6th July that confrontations with the supporters of al-Hawthi are to finish soon. Local sources said that the government troops have control of the mountainous areas surrounding Meran village, where al-Hawthi and his men are stationed. The sources said that controlling those areas makes it easy for the government forces to attack the fighters. However, government troops find some difficulty in approaching post of the fighters on the top of the mountain due to resistance as well as the citizens living in the area.
Press reports last week suggested that al-Hawthi had been able to escape the siege. However, sources close al-Hawthi have denied those reports, and the government has not confirmed them.

Ongoing Casualties
The confrontations of the last few days have claimed a further 40 lives and caused 65 injuries. Among the dead is the former member of parliament Abdullah Aidah al-Ruzami as well as Amir Eddin Abdulmajeed, alias Abu Abdulmutaleb, who was a leading figure of al-Shabab al-Mu'men (Believing Youth) group, the militant organization set up by al-Hawthi in 1997. With this figure the number of deaths since the outbreak of fighting on June 18th soars to over 160 and to over 200 injuries, according to official reports.
However, other sources talk of a larger number of casualties. Sources close to al-Hawthi suggest that approximately 300 have been wounded, and that the number of those killed is also higher than the official figures acknowledge.

One of the sources added,”We appeal to the Red Cross, Amnesty International and civic society organizations to come to the rescue of the people at Haidan Mran and surrounding areas who are under siege from military forces, and to help them as they do not have food, water, electricity or medicine. Tens of wounded are not receiving first aid and necessary medical treatment”.

The source also drew attention to the position of citizens of neighboring governorates. In Hajjah governorate, he claimed, 30 armored vehicles combed several villages and arrested 15 villagers. A further 7 citizens were claimed to be arrested in Hajjah City, and that the majority of those detained were under the age of 15. He also stated that security authorities have arrested elderly citizens with the intention of using them as hostages to induce the surrender of wanted family members.

Opposition Response
In a statement issued on 1st July the Joint Meeting (opposition) Parties expressed their condemnation of the level of force used against the militants and the associated restrictions on political freedoms. They also rejected the government's accusation that their stance was a breach of the duty of the opposition parties to the constitution and national unity.

Future of Religious Schools
The cabinet also discussed the question of the religious schools operating without proper state controls. The cabinet stressed the urgency of closing down these institutions.
The events in Sa'ada have raised the question of these schools and the dangers awaiting Yemen as a result of teaching extremist doctrines in a society that is heavily armed.

A high- rankling official told Yemen Times that the government's plan is to stop funding such schools, necessitating the closure of many due to ensuing financial pressures. Schools financed privately will also be closed down. However, he confessed that there is a difficulty in executing this policy as many of them are small-scale operations operating out of private residences, and are therefore difficult to trace.
Some observers have criticized the government for failing to take measures against the activities of al-Hawthi at an earlier stage. They demanded that the government should target all these schools all over the country without exception. Specifically, they called for the closure of al-Eman University, which was accused by the US of promoting extremism in Yemen.

Continuing Security Concerns
Some diplomats have expressed concern over the ongoing fighting in Sa'ada. They are concerned about the outcome of the death of al-Hawthi and the response of his men and the impact of that on security, including in Sana'a. They have also expressed concern over the consequences of these clashes for relations between Sunni and Shiite groups in Yemen, which have traditionally been cordial and stable.