Sa’ada confrontations flare [Archives:2007/1026/Front Page]

February 19 2007

Mohammed bin Sallam
SA'ADA, Feb. 18 ) Reliable tribal sources say three hours of fierce fighting occurred early Sunday morning between Yemeni army and security personnel and Al-Houthi rebels wearing military uniforms for camouflage, leaving behind numerous dead and injured.

Media sources reported last Friday that a helicopter flying at low altitude and armed with an M-17 machine gun was hit by small arms fire and forced to land after one of its crew was killed and others injured on both sides.

According to the same source, “The helicopter made an emergency landing in Harf Sufian's Beit Ayanha area while a small group of soldiers supported by the plane was combing the area in search of Al-Houthi rebels.”

Several Sa'ada districts are witnessing continual confrontations, especially Madan and Sheharah districts, where military units conduct combing operations searching for Al-Houthi rebels there.

Sources also assure that Houthis are following guerrilla warfare strategies in their fight with army and security personnel, a strategy causing many losses among government forces.

Amnesty International has called upon President Ali Abdullah Saleh to take necessary measures in accordance with international law to protect human rights in Sa'ada, where confrontations are occurring between government forces and Houthis, who adhere to Zaidi Islamic doctrine.

According to the organization's statement, as of the end of January, dozens have been killed and more than 50 arrested. The group also maintained that a complete evaluation of the situation in Sa'ada can't be made right now, as all communications with the area are cut off and journalists are prevented from reaching there.

The statement added that the conflict's casualties include military personnel, those who fell due to excessive use of power and executions conducted by military personnel acting outside the law. Further, it maintained that there are detainees who have been tucked away from the world and subjected to the risks of torture.

“Ibrahim Al-Houthi, who was arrested by security forces at Sana'a Airport on Feb. 1, is detained and isolated from the outside world in the security apparatus's prison in Sana'a. Perhaps he is subjected to torment or other types of mistreatment because he is Hussein Al-Houthi's brother, who was executed outside of the law following similar confrontations in Sa'ada in 2004,” the statement alleged.

Amnesty International fears that the current confrontations may lead to widespread human rights violations, including killings outside of the law by law enforcement officials. Further, the conflict may lead to collective arrests and detentions.

The human rights group's fears are justified due to massive violations during previous Sa'ada confrontations in 2004 and 2005 resulting from military personnel's non-commitment to international conventions, which regulate the use of force.

According to Article No. 3 of the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, “Law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.”

In its letter, Amnesty International also called upon President Saleh to take necessary measures to prevent gross violations during the armed clashes in Sa'ada. It further stressed the importance of charging any individual arrested and ensuring him or her a fair trial or freeing him. Further, it also demanded anyone detained for peaceful expression of his or her beliefs also be released immediately.

In a statement released last Saturday, the Joint Meeting Parties denounced the arrest of citizens in Sana'a, Dhamar and Hajjah, including numerous political activists from the Public Forces Union and Al-Haq parties, demanding their immediate release.

The JMP also requested other political parties, civil society organizations and human rights groups show solidarity with the detainees and pressure authorities to free them. They further warned of politicizing the security situation and called for abiding by Yemeni law and the constitution and abandoning suppressive acts against citizens.

The statement further called upon authorities to cease such acts, which contradict democracy and justice principles, because they expose the nation's stability and security to risk and double the consequences.

Member of Parliament Yahya Al-Houthi did not comment on the Yemeni request to the Interpol to extradite him back to Yemen on the bases of his involvement in terrorism with reference to the Huthi rebellion, and have set three conditions for resolving the confrontations between Al-Houthi's followers and Yemeni government forces.

In a statement, of which the Yemen Times received a copy, MP Al-Houthi declared that there should be true intent to reach a solution. He said government forces should cease fire, the army should withdraw to its positions before the war and dialogue should take place outside the country because he considers the atmosphere in Yemen unsuitable. He further requested guarantees to ensure the authority's commitment to the ensuing agreement.

Yahya Al-Houthi maintains that mediation committees won't provide any solution, hinting at the experiences of previous mediation committees – especially the last one formed under presidential directive, some of whose members were arrested after submitting their report about the situation in Sa'ada during recent days.

He added that Al-Huthi followers support a cease-fire and noted that the Sa'ada war has flared for seven days and is timed with cutting telecommunications to and from the governorate.

In related news, Saudi scholars in Najran and Dhahran Al-Janoub warned of the risks of their government's involvement in the Sa'ada events.

In a statement appearing on the opposition web site, Shafa'i, Zaidi, Sufi and Ismaili scholars, as well as tribal and social personalities from Najran and Dhahran Al-Janoub in Saudi Arabia, asked their government not to follow Yemeni in its war against Zaidi scholar Badraddin Al-Houthi's followers, which is being sold to the public as Yemen and Saudi Arabia's war against the Shi'ite danger in the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula.

Issued by the mid of Muharam and addressed to Najran's prince and other officials in the south of the kingdom, the statement noted that followers of Zaidi, Shafa'i, Ismaili doctrines and other Islamic sects have lived peacefully side-by-side in Saudi Arabia and Yemen for years. It said “We should not allowed to spoil such brotherly relations now or for any reason because this will have great risks on our nation's unity, security and stability.”

The statement also renewed its warning of the risks resulting from the consequences of the Sa'ada events, which disturb Yemen's security and tranquility due to the spread of weapons there and the possibility of Sulfi groups – who ally the Yemeni government against cleric BadrAl-Din Al-Houthi and his followers – allow them in. It concluded by asking the two warring Yemeni parties to fear Allah and stop the bloodshed.