Government, Houthis make concessions to end ongoing war [Archives:2008/1130/Front Page]

February 18 2008

Mohammed Bin Sallam
SA'ADA, Feb. 17 ) The new mediation committee, comprised of eight Qatari military officers and conflict management experts and chaired by Qatar's Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Saif Muqaddam Bin Saqr Abu Al-Ainein, held a meeting with military and security commanders on Saturday in the Sa'ada provincial capital-based Republican Palace, said reliable sources from Sa'ada governorate. The sources added that the government and Houthis both made painful concessions to end ongoing confrontations.

According to the same sources, the meeting involved Northwest Military Flank Commander Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar and Sheikh Saleh Habra, who represented Houthi field leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi in the recent Doha-brokered peace deal.

The sources noted that the meeting resolved various differences between the Yemeni government and Houthis, one of which concerned forming a joint committee to count the missing and search for them. Other agreements made in the meeting were for Houthis to abandon strategic mountaintop positions, the government to pull its troops out of the governorate and for both sides to release their prisoners of war.

The Qatari Red Crescent Association started on Sunday a field survey assessing damage to Houthi supporters and other citizens' property during the 4-year war between Houthis and government troops.

Other sources confirmed that government troops withdrew from the areas of Juma'a Bin Fadhel and Jabal Al-Sauma, overlooking the Haidan district, where fierce clashes between Houthi followers and military forces had occurred.

The sources said that citizens witnessed the 17th Military Division forces withdrawing from Juma'a Bin Fadhel, Jabal Al-Sawma and nearby areas, where fierce confrontations occurred last month, adding that the withdrawal began on Friday. Eyewitnesses also said that the two military detachments, which have been besieged by Houthi supporters since mid-January in the sub-districts of Wald Ayyash and Wald Nawar, were pulled out from their sites.

Eyewitnesses expected that troops gathering in the Haidan district, following the withdrawal process, may head for the Marran area, in Haidan if they don't plan to move to another area in the Marahedh district.

According to the sources, 17th Armored Military Division Commander Abdulaziz Al-Shehari, an Salafi extremist, as well as Western Military Flank Commander Ali Omar Qaied and six of their escorts were among those who left the Haidan district along with the troops following a two-week siege. The military commanders and their escorts were besieged by Houthis after their helicopter was forced to land in the Juma'a Bin Fadhel area.

Houthi supporters decided to lift their siege of government troops in the area and allow the division to leave the area. They also decided to press the government to abandon its military positions and pull its troops out from confrontation zones in the Haidan district.

Abdulmalik Al-Houthi reconfirmed to the mediation committee that his followers have nothing to do with the lockdown of troops in the Juma'a Bin Fadhel area, adding that it is the area locals who besieged the troops in retaliation for the division's operations that damaged their property in the war. But the mediation committee, according to Sa'ada sources, managed to convince both sides of its vision, aimed at implementing terms of the Doha peace deal signed by both sides on Feb. 1, 2008.

The deal stipulates that the government must pull out its troops from the populated areas and Houthis must abandon their positions on the mountain tops and return home, according to official sources, who also pointed out that the army has taken a positive step toward ending the tension between both sides and ensuring that they remain committed to the agreement.

Political observers considered the step important in promoting peace and ending any potential reasons for clashes. The move has been received positively among Sa'ada locals.

The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) Higher Council expressed that it is time for a responsible national position to end the ongoing war and exterminate any tensions that may cause renewed confrontations between both sides. The council said in a letter to the president of the Republic that the war may not end unless there is a joint national effort involving all the Yemeni people.

The opposition parties pressed the government to give top priority to any efforts aimed at ceasing bloodshed in Sa'ada, even at the expense of what is happening in other governorates. In this context, the JMP called for an official declaration of agreement terms so that the public can have a clear picture of both sides' commitment to the ceasefire agreement.

The JMP's letter highlighted the opposition coalition's reaction to the government calling on its members, who were part of the previous mediation committee, to attend a new meeting that will take them to Sa'ada in light of the new developments. It also showed the JMP position toward the crisis since the war broke out in June 2004.