Yemen accuses rebels of violating cease-fire hours after it takes effect

By Ahmed Al-haj, AP
Friday, February 12, 2010

Yemen accuses rebels of violating truce

SAN’A, Yemen — A senior Yemeni official on Friday accused northern rebels of violating a cease-fire agreement hours after it took effect, killing a soldier and wounding another in an attack on a police station.

But government authorities and rebel leaders both insisted the truce deal still holds, despite minor flare ups in fighting between the sides.

After six years of war, Yemen has come under international pressure to quickly draw a close to the conflict to free up resources to confront a separate threat from an al-Qaida offshoot that has established a base of operations in the country a year ago.

Deputy Interior Minister Lt. Gen. Mohammed Abdullah al-Qawsi said the rebels attacked a security office and opened fire on his convoy in the militants’ stronghold in the northern province of Saada.

Al-Qawsi said the attack came “less than an hour after the cease fire was announced.”

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh declared an end to military operations against the militants late Thursday, and the truce took effect at midnight.

The Hawthi rebels said in a statement posted on their Web site Friday that they will respect the cease-fire. Leader Abdel-Malek al-Hawthi “has given instructions to all fighting fronts to cease fire as per the time announced by the Yemeni government,” the statement said.

Yemeni security officials say they expect minor violations of the deal in the short term, but insist the cease-fire still holds. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to the media.

Several earlier cease-fires quickly disintegrated, mainly because the rebels said their demands were not addressed, and it was not clear whether the truce announced Thursday would hold. But the rebels and the government have come under international pressure to end the conflict this time, and both sides appear eager to do so.

Under the government’s truce offer, the rebels have agreed to disarm, release captured soldiers and property, clear mountain hideouts, abide by the constitution and vow not to attack Saudi Arabia.

The northern rebels are ferocious fighters who know the country’s mountainous terrain better than Yemen’s army. The fighting intensified in August, claiming an undetermined number of lives and sending 125,000 people fleeing their homes.

Neighboring Saudi Arabia was drawn into the conflict in November after rebels crossed the border and killed two Saudi border guards. Some 133 Saudi soldiers have died in the fighting.

The militants declared a unilateral cease-fire with Saudi Arabia in late January. The Saudis have responded cautiously to the announcement, and demanded militants pullback from border positions and return five missing soldiers.

The rebels say their community of Shiite Muslims from the Zaydi sect suffer discrimination and neglect and that the government has allowed ultraconservative Sunni extremists too strong a voice in the country. Hard-line Sunnis consider Shiites heretics.

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