Northern rebels accuse president of reneging on promises

Abdulmalik al-Houthi, leader of the Shia rebels in the northern governorate of Saada, has accused the government of reneging on amnesty promises made by President Ali Abdullah Saleh on 22 May.

Saleh had announced an amnesty for all imprisoned southern separatists and Houthi rebels in the north during a speech to commemorate unification in 1990.

"Instead of releasing our fellow citizens in line with President Saleh's amnesty, security authorities in the government are launching new arrest campaigns against our men," al-Houthi said in a statement on 22 June.

According to local media reports, fewer than 800 of the more than 3,000 prisoners believed to be covered by the amnesty have been released.

Asked why the government had not released all of the prisoners under the amnesty, Interior Ministry official Lutfi Nisari said only: "This is a presidential affair."

A security source told IRIN on condition of anonymity the government had only released minor offenders, such as those who had sympathized with al-Houthi, but continued to detain those accused of violent acts against the state. “Gunmen arrested on battlegrounds or masterminds of the rebellion will be referred to the competent courts for trial,” he said.

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“The fact that the government hasn’t released detained Houthis as promised will only make the fragile situation escalate,” Mohammed al-Dhahri, political science professor at Sanaa University, told IRIN. “Fresh clashes are anticipated as the real causes of the problem remain unresolved and promises unfulfilled.”

He blamed the government and the Houthi rebels for not respecting the conditions of the ceasefire they signed on 11 February 2010.

Accusations, counter-accusations

Both sides in the six-year intermittent conflict in northern Yemen continue to accuse each other of not fulfilling ceasefire conditions and of engaging in hostile provocations.

Al-Houthi said ambushes, roadblocks and arrests of Houthi rebels by the security forces violated the ceasefire and would only lead to renewed clashes.

"These acts pursued by the authorities reflect the usual behaviour of the government preceding every round of fighting… The government isn’t serious about implementing its promises on the ground. It repeats the same mistakes again and again," he said.

Interior Ministry official Nisari countered these allegations, saying security patrols were ordered to arrest any citizens bearing arms and to prevent their movements between governorates to maintain security and stability.

"Houthis don't want peace… They are using government security measures to restrict the movement of armed men as a pretext for them to breach the truce," he said. "They don't want displaced families to return home."

Nisari accused the Houthis of setting up checkpoints in mountain-top positions again, which “may compel the government to resort to the military option”.

Photo: OCHA
A map of Yemen highlighting Saada, Amran, Hajja and al-Jawf Provinces

The local news website reported on 21 June that a military officer had been killed and three soldiers injured in an ambush by Houthi gunmen in Harf Sufyan District of Amran Governorate.

It said various checkpoints manned by armed men had been set up by pro-government tribesmen and Houthi followers on roads within the district and warned of a new round of clashes.

Despite the three-month truce, dozens of soldiers and rebels have been killed in sporadic violence, according to local eyewitnesses.

IDPs wary of return

Many internally displaced persons (IDPs), particularly those who have returned to their homes in the past only to be driven out again by renewed fighting, are sceptical about the ceasefire lasting and are determined to stay put.

"This time we should remain here,” said Ali Mohammed al-Saadi, 85, who lives with his six-member family in al-Mazraq Camp II in Hajjah Governorate. “We have moved enough. I’m not sure the ceasefire will hold for long. It will be breached by the Houthis at any time. We hear about violations almost every day… The situation isn't yet stable.”

He said his family had been displaced three times since 2007. "If we return home, we will be forced to flee for the fourth time."