Death and injury toll “unknown”Government-wide committee formed to survey damage from fifth Sa’ada war [Archives:2008/1175/Front Page]

July 24 2008

By: Mohammed Bin Sallam
& Aqeel Al-Halali
For The Yemen Times

SA'ADA, July 23 ) While the government has declared that it has formed a field committee to survey damage in Sa'ada governorate due to the more than 90-day war between the Yemeni army and Houthi loyalists there, official sources in the governorate report that most evacuees are afraid to return to their homes due to apprehensions that the fighting may resume.

Sa'ada Health Office director Omar Mujalli says that evacuees sheltering at relief camps in Sa'ada are “hesitant to return to their villages because they are afraid that Houthis might not be committed to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's declaration that the war is over or his call to sit with Houthis at the 'dialogue table.'”

Political observers consider forming a ministerial committee to visit the affected areas a good initiative to help restore security and peace to those areas, enable displaced residents to return home and resume reconstruction in the various areas.

Yemenis, particularly those living in Sa'ada, welcomed President Saleh's declaration to end the war. Prominent opposition leaders and ruling party activists, who hadn't learned about this past Thursday's decision to cease military operations in Sa'ada, also were satisfied with the decision, having viewed the war as a humanitarian and economic catastrophe.

Mujalli believes that prolonging the current conditions of evacuees at the six Sa'ada camps only increases the “potential for epidemic diseases due to the summer rainfalls,” noting that the camps shelter some 22,000 evacuees from their homes in restive districts of Sa'ada.

He added that a similar number of evacuees are sheltering in their relatives' homes, further calling on Yemen's Health Ministry and the World Health Organization to continue their support of much-needed medications, which can provide better health services for the refugees.

Displaced residents still are taking refuge in makeshift camps for fear of returning to their villages and homes following the mass devastation. They are cynical about Saleh's decision to end the war, particularly since he ordered no troop withdrawals from villages and citizens' farmlands, nor has he stopped the repeated crackdown on Houthi loyalists.

Additionally, they maintain that President Saleh hasn't released those detained in various security jails for alleged connections to the Sa'ada fighting, despite the fact that such release was stipulated in an agreement President Saleh reached with Houthi field leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi.

The displaced Sa'ada residents further complain that the government hasn't yet begun relief efforts to treat the wounded and gather the bodies of the dead scattered in mountains and valleys for burial.

The European Union Commission, which declared early last month that it was offering 1 million euro to assist affected peoples in Sa'ada.

Mujalli further maintains that the current situation at the evacuee camps is safe and settled, noting that there are fixed medical clinics in the main camp and other mobile medical teams, including a specialized physician, two midwives and a vehicle with the most recent medical equipment in the other camps.

While the Yemen Times was unable to obtain official statistics of human damages from the last Sa'ada war, reliable sources maintain that the Yemeni Cabinet is working to come up with statistics of the dead and injured.

Material damages resulting from the first Sa'ada war amounted to $60 million, whereas damages increased during the second war, which consumed significant public finances due to increases military expenses. According to the National Security report, the second war's financial damages were more than $82 million.

Eisa A'atif, head of the Sa'ada Media Office, says damages from the fifth war are “too huge and can't be counted,” adding that, “The last war was completely different from the previous wars because it extended into new districts. Additionally, Houthis used more developed weapons targeting both public and private property.”

A'atif maintains that it's necessary to activate the Fund to Reconstruct Affected Areas in Sa'ada, which was established in July 2007. He further urges that field teams be sent to all 15 Sa'ada governorates, noting that the local authority currently is working to “[move] displaced Sa'ada residents from camps to their villages and securing transportation and roads to guarantee that they'll arrive at their homes without harm.”

However, Mohammed Al-Awlah, a resident of Munabbeh district near the Saudi border, says, “Most evacuees won't return to their villages because their homes are ravaged,” adding that some evacuees are afraid that the war may resume, particularly given that clashes between the army and Houthi supporters are ongoing in Amran governorate's Harf Sifyan area.

Fighting hasn't ended completely

Sporadic armed confrontations between Yemeni army personnel and Houthi gunmen currently are occurring in more than one district in the restive governorate, tribal sources from Sa'ada and Amran governorates report, adding that the fiercest clashes occurred in Amran's Harf Sifyan area on Monday morning, continuing until Tuesday afternoon.

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As a result, the Sana'a-Sa'ada Highway remained blocked for hours, during which President Saleh gave strict orders to army personnel and pro-government tribesmen to stop attacking Houthi gunmen, who have been entrenching in strategic positions since the fifth war broke out two months ago, most notably in Amran's Saifan, Ayan and Haira areas.

The tribal sources confirm that military troops still are entrenching in Harf Sifyan, while Houthi fighters have retained their strategic mountaintop positions on full alert in expectation of Yemeni military offensives. According to the sources, this means that the fighting still continues in the area, despite President Saleh's declaration last week that the war is “over.”

Concern for an ailing detainee

The Yemeni Organization to Defend Rights and Democratic Freedoms warns that the condition of detainee Lu'ay Al-Moayyad, son of late journalist Abdulwahab Ali Al-Moayyad, who authorized an encyclopedia of Yemeni press, may worsen if he doesn't receive adequate treatment and care, as he suffers liver disease and is infected with Hepatitis B.

According to the organization, Al-Moayyad's health is bad, even while he is at home. “What will his condition look like in detention, where he has no access to medicine?” the group asked.

The group sent a letter to Yemen's attorney general, urging him to intervene in releasing the ailing detainee and warning that, “What happened to Hashim Hajar, who died at the Central Prison as a result of his illnesses, may happen to Al-Moayyad.”

The organization further urged other local and international non-governmental organizations to pressure responsible authorities within the Yemeni government to release Al-Moayyad.

Al-Moayyad was captured and jailed as part of a massive arrest campaign by security authorities against civil personalities in Sana'a who have no connections with the Sa'ada war. The fact that these individuals are affiliated with the Zaidi sect or the Hashemite family or active in civil society was the main reason they were detained.

Al-Moayyad was arrested June 30 and subsequently taken to a security jail without clear charges. Even worse, his family members weren't allowed to visit or deliver him medicine.