Thursday, July 22, 2010

Yemen: Heavy fighting between Houthi-led Shia rebels and pro-government tribesmen

Clashes between Houthi-led Shia rebels and pro-government tribesmen in northern Yemen since late evening on 18 July have left 35 people dead and at least 30 injured, straining a fragile February ceasefire, an Amran local council member, told IRIN.

Thirty of the deaths were in the Amashia area of Harf Sufyan District, Amran Governorate, some 120km north of the capital Sanaa, while five others were killed in Munabeh District, Saada Governorate.

The casualties were also reported by local independent news website, which said more than half of those killed were Houthi fighters.

"Both sides, Houthi gunmen and Sheikh Saghir Bin Aziz's followers, who support the government, used different types of weapons in the clashes, damaging several homes and public facilities in Amashia area," the website said, adding that both sides had resumed planting landmines on critical roads and farmland.

The Amran local council member, who asked not to be named, said that in a separate incident two military vehicles belonging to the Yemeni army were attacked on their way to Saada.

"This is an attempt by Houthi followers to drag the army into the clashes… We are still unsure about the casualties among troops travelling in the three vehicles," he said.

Houthi field leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi accused the Yemeni and Saudi authorities of channelling funds to Sheikh Bin Aziz's followers and supplying them with weapons and equipment.

"The government is not serious about restoring peace to Saada… It has turned to fomenting violence between its citizens," he said.

Qatari peace efforts

The clashes coincided with efforts by the Qatari government to reinforce the points agreed in a two-year-old Doha-brokered peace deal between the government and rebels.

Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, visited Yemen earlier this week for this purpose. He also pledged US$50 million in aid for Saada reconstruction. An official Qatari mediation team is due to visit Yemen in the last week of July, in a bid to keep the warring parties apart. The government and rebels have been engaged in intermittent fighting since 2004.

IDPs reluctant to return

Abdussalam al-Sharaabi, an aid worker at a food distribution centre in Amran city, told IRIN on 20 July that displaced families from Harf Sufyan District had reversed their decisions to return home after hearing about the recent violence.

"More than 20 families sheltering in the city and receiving food from this centre were about to go back to their homes in Harf Sufyan District on Monday [19 July], but it didn't happen," he said. "Now they are staying put in rented apartments, scattered tents or with host families."

Only 30 percent of an estimated 330,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned to their villages since an 11 February ceasefire agreement, Claire Bourgeois, the UN Refugee Agency’s representative in Yemen, told journalists at a 10 July news conference in Sanaa.

"Their focus is to go home… What they need is security," she said, adding that damaged homes should be reconstructed and basic services restored to prompt IDP returns.

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN