Sa’ada fighting fiercer as mediation is at an impasse [Archives:2007/1028/Front Page]

February 26 2007

Mohammed Bin Sallam
SA'ADA, Feb. 25 ) Bloody clashes which broke out a month ago between the Yemeni army and Al-Houthi-led rebels in Sa'ada governorate, located 245 km. north of Sana'a, have grown fiercer. The fighting killed dozens on both sides, provoking controversy and an exchange of accusations between the opposition and the ruling party.

“Government forces used all kinds of land and air weapons in the fierce clashes that erupted last Monday and continued until Friday,” Sa'ada sources reported, adding, “Hundreds on both sides were killed or injured in the fighting. Up to 71 soldiers were killed and 202 others injured, but Al-Houthi casualties haven't been reported because relatives can't transfer victims to the city hospital while the government is imposing a media blackout.”

According to the same sources, the Yemeni army has launched military operations against Al-Houthi supporters on the outskirts of Sa'ada and confrontations have shifted to the nearby mountains in Al-Talh, Al-Awairah, Al-Salem and Sahar.

Media sources reported that dozens of Al-Houthi loyalists donned military uniforms similar to those of military soldiers, assaulted a military site near the city of Sahar and clashed with government troops for hours, killing or injuring dozens on both sides. Government air forces carried out offensives in some villages and areas, thus paving the way for advancing troops toward Al-Houthi positions.

Two days ago, security authorities stopped a car loaded with military uniforms, similar to those of the Yemeni army, headed for Al-Houthi followers and confiscated them. However, authorities didn't mention who had sent the uniforms.

Local sources revealed that Al-Talh locals are enraged over the killing of prominent tribesman Jarallah Fardan and one of his daughters last Tuesday in a mortar attack by government troops positioned on the road connecting Sa'ada city to the market. Al-Talh tribal leaders met late last week to discuss the repeated army strikes which damaged 26 homes in one of Sa'ada's most important markets.

Several sheikhs warned that locals may begin supporting the rebels and engaging in the war against government troops if artillery strikes and mortar attacks continue on the villages and homes of those who don't back Al-Houthi. They demanded authorities determine Al-Houthi positions exactly in order to limit the fight with the loyalists to specific areas in the restive governorate.

Member of Parliament Yahya Badraddin Al-Houthi, who currently resides in Germany, distributed a Feb. 24 statement, a copy of which the Yemen Times obtained, alleging, “Such confrontations are an aggressive war!” and further accusing Yemeni authorities of foiling all peaceful mediation efforts.

“The Yemeni army is striking villages in such a way that violates basic human rights and the authorities cut off all telecommunications in the governorate so that nobody can see what's happening,” the statement added.

In a recent statement, Abdulmalik Al-Houthi, leader of the rebellion, welcomed the Joint Meeting Parties' initiative to tackle the issue peacefully. He denied any relations with Iran or Libya, as authorities allege, confirming that he's ready for any peaceful solution to the crisis to ensure his tribesmen their constitutional rights to express themselves.

Al-Houthi's statement continued, “Government efforts in this regard are unacceptable behavior because it paves the way for foreign interference at the expense of Yemenis and their blood, as well as the nation's security and stability.”

The statement, which was distributed to the media, warned of the official media's addresses regarding sectarianism. “We reject the authorities' attempts to spark sectarian sedition between Zaidis and Shafis. We affirm that we are brothers who love each other without any difference between Zaidis and Shafis,” the statement clarified.

On behalf of Al-Houthis, the statement criticized official media for using language regarding blasphemy against Zaidis and other Islamic sects.

Regarding his attitude toward President Ali Abdullah Saleh's call for Al-Houthis to form a political party, abandon their mountain positions and surrender their heavy arms, the rebel leader responded, “We welcome any peaceful solution that ensures us citizenship rights and freedom of expression in conformity with the Yemeni Constitution. We accept the president's call for us to form a political party according to the Political Parties and Organizations Law.”

The JMP renewed its rejection of any foreign interference in the Sa'ada rebellion, but it urged rebels to surrender their arms and continue the struggle in a peaceful manner. Deputy JMP spokesman Mohammed Al-Sabri told the Emirati Al-Bayaan newspaper, “The opposition emphasizes the necessity of suggesting solutions to all national issues.”

He pointed out that the JMP opposed the Yemeni government's manner of dealing with the issue from the very beginning, but declared that they are ready to participate in any peaceful efforts to end the crisis.

The opposition parties affirmed that peaceful democratic options are the only means to express political and social demands, thoughts and opinions. They called upon all to continue the peaceful struggle in order to embody such an option in the nation's political life because it's the only correct way toward a new Yemen.

Yemeni authorities are hunting and arresting anyone suspected of links with Al-Houthi in several governorates, including Dhamar, where local sources reported that as many as 10 individuals were arrested last week. In the capital, authorities arrested five students enrolled at Badr Religious Center, which is run by Zaidi imam Al-Murtadha Zaid Al-Muhatwari.

Additionally, the arrest campaigns targeted those who studied at the Great Mosque in Sana'a, others who belong to Al-Haq and the Popular Forces Union Party, as well as several individuals suffering mental disorders, such as Amiraddin Badraddin Al-Houthi, who is psychologically ill.

Local Sa'ada authorities have announced that dialogue with Al-Houthi loyalists has reached an impasse. “Dialogue and negotiations with the terrorist elements have reached a deadlock. Al-Houthi supporters don't understand anything except force,” quoted a Sa'ada source as saying last Thursday, more than a week after mediation efforts were halted.

Other sources report that residents of Khawlan area in Sa'ada are experiencing harsh living conditions because they can't obtain foodstuffs. The same sources added that locals refuse to engage in clashes against Al-Houthi aides in order for them to get foodstuffs.

An official source threatened that tough measures are due to be taken against the Popular Forces Union Party-affiliated for publishing incorrect stories alleging that new jihadist groups have joined the rebellion to fight the Yemeni army.

The source described the story as a fabrication, noting that it's strange for to publish such news because it's known to back terrorism since the very beginning of the Sa'ada rebellion. He added that firm action should be taken against the web site for fabricating facts and harming the reputation of the nation, its army and security forces.

“That threat represents a series of official conducts targeting press freedom,” an official at reacted, pointing out that the official source can only deny the story's authenticity without using language of intimidation or terrorism against the press.

He claims depended upon more than a local source in Abyan governorate when publishing news about the jihadist groups, adding that the web site welcomes any military or civilian comment on the story after its publication. The staff member affirmed that official sources must provide information to members of the press.

U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Thomas C. Krajeski ascertained that his government would support Yemen in quelling the rebellion. “We are ready to hear and welcome Yemen's request for support,” he declared in an interview with 26 September newspaper, “We neither back nor accept any armed rebellion against President Saleh's government. We hope the rebels surrender their arms and end the crisis.”

Krajeski went on to say, “We've worked hard with the military and security forces in Yemen for about five years and I think this cooperation is due to last for some time,” concluding, “The Sa'ada issue is very difficult for the Yemeni government, which we back.”

It's the first time the U.S. officially has declared its support for the Yemeni government regarding the Sa'ada rebellion. U.S. State Department reports have criticized the fighting in Sa'ada, in addition to Zaidi thoughts.