Despite increasing efforts to restore Sa’adaAnti-personnel mines kill hundreds of goat herders [Archives:2008/1186/Front Page]

September 1 2008

Mohammed Bin Sallam
SA'ADA, Aug. 31 ) Landmines planted during the four-year fighting in Sa'ada between the Yemeni army and Houthi loyalists have killed hundreds of goat herders in the governorate, Houthi sources maintain, adding that the human situation continues worsening as displaced residents no longer can tolerate living in tents without any access to sanitation networks.

“In various media outlets, we hear about various local and international relief agencies offering humanitarian assistance to affected citizens in Sa'ada, however, such hasn't actually happened on the ground,” Houthi representative Sheikh Saleh Habra told the Yemen Times.

He added that, “Refugee tents sheltering the families of Houthi loyalists suffer unprecedented negligence. Refugees at Anad Camp, which is comprised of 700 tents, are experiencing the worst conditions since the war ended. They lack adequate sanitation systems, drinking water and necessary medical equipment.”

According to Habra, the total cost of equipping the entire camp was an estimated YR 25 million, but contractors completed only six toilets that are being used by both men and women.

“Imagine what the situation is like, particularly when we consider that each tent is occupied by five to 12 people. The entire camp is providing shelter for up to 7,000 people,” Habra pointed out. “The human situation and health conditions are extremely bad and the refugees can't tolerate such conditions.”

He urged the Yemeni government and humanitarian organizations to perform their humanitarian duty toward the camps' occupants, most of whom are women, children and the elderly.

Prostitution spreads in refugee camps

“Prostitution – a phenomenon which our conservative tribal community has never seen before – has spread in several camps due to the lack of a male presence there and the infiltration of strange men from the army brigades and nearby areas into the tents. Many girls have become vulnerable to rape and/or deviation or are coerced into prostitution,” Habra noted.

Asked about any achievements reached by government committees operating in Sa'ada, Habra responded, “These committees only attempt to satisfy people, but don't care about suggesting workable solutions to real problems on the ground. The committees aren't responding to refugee's urgent needs, nor are they concerned about epidemics spreading among them. Refugees are suffering a terrible shortage of toilets, drinking water and other basic necessities.”

With regard to those missing or detained for alleged connections to the Sa'ada fighting, Habra points out that President Ali Abdullah Saleh promised to release more than 1,200 detainees from the various governorates, mainly Sa'ada, Amran, Hajjah, Dhamar and Sa'ada.

He continued, noting that the majority of those detained for such alleged links are unrelated to the Houthi movement, adding that approximately 400 Sa'ada youths are missing and the Yemeni government hasn't indicated whether they are still alive or are dead.

“We're still awaiting a presidential pardon to release these detainees by the advent of Ramadan,” Habra said, adding that, “Our villages and farmlands were destroyed, while other property was stolen by army personnel and pro-government tribesmen.”

According to him, as many as 370 confiscated vehicles and hundreds of power generators, water pumps and agricultural machinery still haven't been returned to their owners.

Asked about the security situation in the war-torn governorate, Habra replied, “We often suffer from anti-personnel mines planted in our areas by the Yemeni army, but military officials have made no effort to remove these mines. We defused more than 400 mines, but thousands more still are planted in the ground.”

The tribal leader confirms that landmines have killed 100 women and injured more than 100 more as they grazed their sheep and goats near villages and refugee camps.

Government orders recruiting of tribesmen

Habra says the Yemeni government has ordered every tribe to recruit 5,000 members in preparation for an internal tribal war. “This is the most immense threat to the governorate's future,” he noted.

He describes published reports by unofficial media claiming that there's an alliance between the government and Houthis as “false and unauthentic,” adding that such fabricated reports are meant to make citizens cast doubt on the strong relationship between Houthis and the Joint Meeting Parties.

“President Saleh made a wise and brave decision to end the war. We had hoped that such a decision would be made earlier in order to stop the bloodshed and prevent the killing of thousands of citizens and army personnel,” Habra noted. “If both sides abide by the Doha-brokered peace deal, it will end the conflicts in the northern governorate.”

However, he went on to say, “The Yemeni government is cheating the Doha-brokered peace deal because it is refusing to release all of those detained for alleged connections to the Sa'ada events.”

Regarding reports about field surveys to assess war-related damages and the distribution of aid to displaced residents, Habra commented, “We see the same scenario repeated at the end of every war or ahead of any general election.” He maintains that the Yemeni government isn't serious about enhancing security and peace in the governorate or reconstructing villages damaged during the war.