Situations in Sa’ada unstable, locals fear resumption of war [Archives:2007/1100/Front Page]

November 5 2007

Mohammed Bin Sallam
SA'ADA, Nov. 4 ) Tensions between government troops and Houthi supporters have resumed once again while situations in the restive governorate show signs that armed clashes between the conflicting parties may renew, said Sa'ada tribal sources.

Media sources, however, reported that the two parties are exchanging accusations over breaches in ceasefire agreements, most of which were shootouts killing some Houthi loyalists and army members. Ceasefire violations have increased recently and seem to be committed on a daily basis, particularly in Haidan District, where army units are positioned and their commanders impose an embargo on locals.

The most recent violations are reported to have been committed in Haidan last Wednesday, where Houthi sources mentioned that the military forces used medium-scale weapons to strike Walad Nawar village, leaving a 12-year-old child injured.

It was also reported that a military unit killed four citizens, believed to support Abdulmalik Al-Houthi, in Ghamr District during the first week of last October while they parked their car at a gasoline station to refuel it. According to media reports, military troops killed the three men who were inside the car after they refused to remove posters carrying Houthi's slogan on their car denouncing behaviors of the United States and Israel. Houthi leader Abdulmalik Badraddin condemned the incident and considered it “a continuation of the series of killings, aggression, injustice and barbarism.” He accused the army of killing innocent citizens instead of protecting them, saying that some soldiers at security checkpoints have turned to exercise highway activities.

Haidan District has been under heightened siege by paramilitary troops since the most recent war, despite the fact that the Doha Agreement, which ended the fighting between both parties, is in effect.

Observers attribute Haidan's siege and repeated attacks on citizens to the extremist behavior demonstrated by the district director, a military commander who believes that military operations are the best option to defeat Houthis.

Tribal sources commented that the army repeatedly strikes homes and small villages throughout the governorate randomly, including the areas of Jeza'a, Juma'a Bin Fadhel and Dhuaib, adding that such behaviors are responsible for devastating property and terrifying women and children.

People living in the horror-stricken areas complain that the armed forces usually target their villages without justification. Other sources say that the army has been repeatedly striking Juma'a Bin Fadhel with mortar fire and heavy weaponry, terrifying its inhabitants since the ceasefire was signed.

On a related subject, the committee concerned with implementing the Doha Agreement announced a map of areas where it is claimed the army planted landmines. The committee went on to say that many citizens, including women and children, have died from landmines planted in Marran and Marashi.

Regarding the human situation, the media reported on October 31 that Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Mohammed Othman discussed with Sa'ada Governor Mutahhar Rashad Al-Masri the aid needed by civilians in the war-ravaged governorate, which has gone through bloody clashes for four years.

According to the media, the discussions held by Othman and Al-Masri were limited to identifying citizens' needs for humanitarian aid, which the UNHCR can offer in order to enhance the Yemeni government's efforts in compensating those whose property was damaged by the wars and extending aid coming from different countries to those who require it.

War broke out in Sa'ada for the first time on June 28, 2004 between government troops and supporters of the religious cleric Abdulmalik Al-Houthi over ideological grounds. It ended last June after a Qatari mediation committee intervened and reconciled the conflicting parties.

The UNHCR Representative's visit to Yemen comes following reports by UN agencies and other human rights organizations expressing concerns about deterioration of the human situation in the war-torn governorate. The reports mentioned that the fighting forced around 90 thousand people to evacuate their homes and search for other safe areas.

The most recent confrontations between military forces and Houthi followers erupted on October 10 despite the ceasefire agreement reached last June, thanks to efforts by the Qatari mediation committee. Under the agreement, the government is committed to reconstruct any areas damaged by the wars after the rebels abandon their positions on the mountaintops and lay down their arms. The government is also committed to helping displaced families return home, restore damaged property and release detainees jailed over alleged loyalty with Abdulmalik Al-Houthi, leader of the rebellion.

Houthis, however, complain that the government hasn't yet begun to implement terms of the agreement.

On October 12, Yahya Al-Houthi – Parliament member and brother of slain Hussein Badraddin Al-Houthi said in a statement that “The government planted landmines in several areas in Sa'ada, thus hindering farmers from collecting firewood and grass for their cattle, growing their crops, or exercising any other daily activities.” He added that one of the landmines exploded, resulting in the loss of a woman's leg, while another landmine killed many cattle.

Recently, the Yemeni government has given out ambiguous reports concerning the bloody events in Sa'ada, 245 km north of Sana'a. The reports sometimes stated that there is a tribal rebellion led by Al-Houthi and his supporters, while at other times they claimed that Houthis are waging a war against the regime in order to return the Imamate to Yemen. Also, the reports alleged that the rebels are led by Iranian intelligence elements and they receive Shiite concepts from Iran saying that only Hashimis are eligible to rule the nation. Once, the Yemeni government accused Libya of backing the rebels via one of the Houthi's sons, who currently resides in Tripoli.