Sanaa turns down Houthi ceasefire offer

01 February 2010

Rebel leader agrees to meet government accord terms on 30 January

Sanaa has turned down a ceasefire offer from Houthi rebels in the north of the country, according to sources in the Yemeni capital.

Abdulmalik al-Houthi, leader of the rebels, has offered to meet the government’s terms for a ceasefire in the six-year-old conflict, according to local and international media reports on 30 and 31 January.

However, the government says the Houthis have not met all of their conditions, which include disarmament and a promise not to enter Saudi Arabian territory, according to sources in Sanaa.

“The war is still going on and if anything today it is stronger,” said Nasser Arribiye, a local journalist and political analyst. “The Houthis have said what they have said, but they have ignored some of the key points of the government’s points.”

Fighting in the northern province of Saada intensified on 31 January after the government decided not to agree to a ceasefire, he added.

Houthi leaders have repeatedly said their uprising is a reaction to the economic and political disenfranchisement by the predominantly Sunni central government. The Houthis are Zaydis, a branch of Shia Islam peculiar to Yemen and some parts of Saudi Arabia.

The government claims the rebels want to set up a Zaydi imamate in Sadaa province and that they have ambitions to seize land in Saudi Arabia and other parts of Yemen. Up to 200,000 Yemenis have been displaced by the conflict since 2004, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees.

The rebellion in the north is just one of Yemen’s problems. The government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh also faces a resurgent secessionist movement in the south and the growing presence of the terrorist group Al-Qaeda in the east.

Yemen has become the focus of rising international interest in recent months, at first because of Saudi military involvement in the Houthi conflict late in 2009. In December, the alleged perpetrator of a bombing attempt on a US airline was reported to have been trained by Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen.

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