Sa’ada crisis worsens amid threats of violence [Archives:2008/1118/Front Page]

January 7 2008

SA'ADA, Jan. 6 ) Incidents of mysterious killings between civilians and government troops are increasing from day to day, tribal and media sources said, adding that a serious incident took place inside the province's government complex where the governor's security guards assaulted sheikh Yaser Mujalli, a prominent tribal leader in the restive province.

The incident left eight of the sheikh's escorts dead and another seven injured. This enraged the tribal leader, brother of well-known Parliament member Othman Hussein Mujalli, who announced two days after the incident during a huge tribal rally that avenging the death of the victims will risk senior statesmen by attacking the government's vital centers.

Sa'ada tribal sheikhs interpret the killings as government policy targeting their lives. According to the sheikhs, opportunistic officials, whom they described as “war brokers”, must stop shedding the blood of innocent civilians.

Tribal sources claimed that the incident was machinated by government agents against Mujalli's family. They indicated that intensive shooting from the government facilities overlooking the scene is clear-cut evidence of agency involvement in shedding Sa'ada citizens' blood.

Concluding their rally, the tribesmen vowed in an agreement to stand in solidarity with the victims' relatives, with defectors held responsible for their actions. Sa'ada sheikhs remained adherent to the first demand in the agreement, that of pressuring authorities to accelerate their prosecution of killers and those who support them, as well as form a fact-finding committee to assess the present situation.

Tribal observers expect such an incident to lead to a breakdown in relations between the government and tribesmen backing it in its war on Houthi supporters. These expectations are based on observers' analyses of the complicated situation in Sa'ada.

Tribesmen, however, claimed that continued silence without a reaction to the government complex incident may encourage the state to escalate its alleged barbaric operations against citizens and prevent tribal sheikhs from exercising their influence within their communities. They continued that the government's insistence on implementing its military policies, contradicting the tribal agreement, may cause it to suffer heavy damages and losses in the war-torn governorate.

The governorate has experienced stability since December 16, the day of the government complex incident. The tribes of Khawlan Bani Amer and Hamdan Bin Zaid, to which Sheikh Mujalli belongs, labeled the event as “a plotted crime targeting the sheikh's sons.”

Other events and incidents, such as Friday's killing of three children and injury of another three in one Houthi village by military mortars, were reported along with the murder of Hassan Eidha, a local council member, plus a woman and two children on Thursday.

Prominent tribal figures and politicians warned against an escalation of the crisis and its development into a new war between government troops and Houthis, particularly after the Qatari mediation committee failed to end the fighting and the other mediation committee, formed by President Saleh, halted its efforts and activities in the war-ravaged governorate.

Abdulmalik Al-Houthi, Houthi field leader, earlier urged Joint Meeting Party (JMP) leadership and NGOs to intervene and prevent a possible outbreak of a fifth Sa'ada war, pointing out that Salafi elements are preparing themselves to wage a new war.

“Taking an initiative during such a critical stage is a regional, national and humanitarian responsibility,” Al-Houthi said in a letter addressed to JMP leaders and NGO representatives. “It is unwise for you to wait until a fifth war erupts since it may destroy any remaining infrastructure, kill thousands of citizens and military soldiers, make the wound more painful and increase tragic calamities in the country.”

In the letter, of which copies were obtained by different media outlets, Al-Houthi complained that authorities have launched repeated arrest campaigns, killed citizens, destroyed their homes and forced many families to live outdoors. Moreover, the government is continuing its excessive military presence in different parts of the governorate, according to Al-Houthi.

The letter disclosed numerous arrangements by the government, which usually indicates its intention to wage a new war, clarifying that army officers and soldiers often speak of a prospective war to break out soon.

Al-Houthi stated that he has written such a letter since he is concerned about bloodshed and the country's security and stability, but added, “We are obliged to defend ourselves against any assaults by the army.”

Regarding behaviors believed to instigate a new war, tribal sources noted that an extremist Salafi cleric, named Askar Zuail, who works as Office Manger for Gen. Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, Commander of the Northwestern Military Flank, labeled Houthi followers as disbelievers while giving a sermon in one of the local mosques on Friday. The preacher said that Houthi loyalists are affiliated with the Shiite Ja'afari sect, adding that “the authorities will never negotiate with them.”

The same sources reported that Zuail is leading Salafi groups that support the army in its fight with Houthis, and during the past few months he began to instigate people against Houthis and their Shiite sect in his Friday sermons.