x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Houthi rebels keep their side of bargain in Yemen

Five days into a fragile ceasefire, the chief of the borderline committee charged with implementing it says the rebels are complying.

SANA'A// Five days after the announcement of a ceasefire between government forces and rebels in Yemen's north, the committees overseeing the implementation of the six-point deal said the rebels have fulfilled most of the first condition. Yemen's government announced the truce last Thursday after the Zaidi Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, accepted the conditions and a timetable for their implementation, marking a potential end to the intermittent six-year conflict.

The government's conditions included the Houthis' withdrawal from official buildings and abandoning military posts they had seized, reopening roads, returning weapons seized from security services, freeing all military and civilian prisoners, including Saudi soldiers, respecting the law and the constitution, and pledging not to attack Saudi Arabia. "We have so far achieved 70 per cent of the implementation of the first condition [pertaining to withdrawal] and the Houthis have to implement the six conditions," Mohammed al Haweri, chief of the borderline committee told The National by phone.

Mr al Haweri said the government and the Houthis also started the demining and that a field team is pursuing this task. The Houthi rebels said in a statement released Tuesday night that they had withdrawn from areas along the Saudi border, which had allowed for Yemen to deploy troops to secure the area. Mr Haweri, however, refused to comment on whether this had taken place or not. "The Houthis have to implement the six conditions and it is not their business to allow the deployment of the army. This is something the state should decide," he said.

On his part, Ali bin Ali al Qaisi, chief of the al Malahidh committee, confirmed that the rebels had withdrawn from 70 per cent of the official buildings and military posts in the mountains they were controlling. However, he said armed rebels are still operating in the area. "The Houthis have withdrawn from many posts but their heavy presence remains a problem; they might pose an obstacle for the return of the local authority officials to their workplace or [pose] a reason for the flare up of tension again," Mr al Qaisi said.

In addition to this, the Sa'ada city committee opened the main road linking Sa'ada and Saudi Arabia and thirty road blocks have been removed along this road, according to a statement by the rebels released Tuesday night. The rebels released on Monday Yehia Abdullah al Khuzaei, a Saudi solider, as part of the peace deal. They continue to hold four other Saudi soldiers and say they will hand them over in return for their fighters captured by Saudi troops.

After two of their soldiers were killed in a cross-border raid in November, Saudi forces joined the conflict, unleashing air strikes and artillery barrages on the rebels. At least 133 Saudi soldiers died and five were declared missing, according to government reports. Despite the progress made towards bringing peace to the war-torn northern province of Sa'ada, and Harf Sufian in the neighbouring Amran province, breaches continue to be reported.

The rebels have accused the military of firing at the committee overseeing the implementation of the ceasefire agreement in Harf Sufian, blaming "war mongers" for working to thwart peace efforts in the region. A government official also accused the rebels of killing a military officer on Tuesday. But the shooting was linked to a dispute between the officer's tribe and the rebels and not to clashes between the army and insurgents.

Government officials also accused the rebels on Monday of bombing a courthouse and water pump machines in Baqim district in Sa'ada province. Intermittent fighting between the two sides has killed and wounded thousands and left 250,000 homeless since 2004. Dozens of refugees have started returning to their home villages, according to local sources. Rabab al Rifai, communications officer at the International Commission for the Red Cross in Sana'a, however, said they expect more refugees to return if the situation gets better.

"We are still monitoring and we have no reports of movement of the refugees in Sa'ada city at the moment but we are expecting that they would start moving either to their houses or the main towns. But, we assume they would still need support for some time even after the ceasefire," Ms al Rifai said. The government has accused the rebels of seeking to restore the Zaidi Shiite imamate that ruled in Sana'a until its overthrow in a 1962 republican coup that sparked eight years of civil war. The rebels, however, complained of social, religious and economic discrimination.

malqadhi@thenational.ae