Source : New York Times, By ROBERT F. WORTH 23/07/2010
WASHINGTON — Fighting has flared up across Yemen in recent days, with dozens of pro-government tribesmen killed in clashes with rebels in the north since the weekend, and five soldiers killed in a suspected Qaeda ambush Thursday in the southern province of Shabwa, witnesses and military officials said.
The violence highlighted the multiple security threats facing Yemen, which drew global attention in December after a failed bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound commercial flight by a young Nigerian man trained by militants from Al Qaeda in Yemen. The United States and other Western countries have pressured Yemen to resolve separate insurgent movements in the north and south to focus more intensively on fighting Al Qaeda.
The government reached a truce with northern Houthi rebels in February, with the rebels agreeing to return detainees, open blocked roads and withdraw from civilian areas. But in recent days, clashes between the rebels and pro-government tribes have snowballed into open warfare, witnesses said. Many in Yemen fear the renewal of a conflict that has raged on and off since 2004.
The violence in the north started to spike last week, when Houthi fighters killed 11 soldiers and tribesmen fighting with the government in the Harf Sufyan area. A Houthi spokesman, Abu Hashem, said the group had fought only government soldiers.
The Houthi conflict has the potential to further destabilize Yemen, because it has sectarian overtones and has already once drawn in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis briefly became involved late last year after Houthi fighters crossed into Saudi territory and killed a Saudi border guard.
Many in the region feared that the conflict would spread, in part because the Houthis belong to an offshoot of Shiite Islam known as Zaydism and have been accused of drawing support from Shiite Iran. Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab countries are deeply concerned about Iran’s influence in the region, but Iran has denied support for the Houthis, as have Houthi press officers.
Violence also appears to be on the rise in Yemen’s south, where the five soldiers were reported killed Thursday morning, and a sixth seriously wounded. Last week, about 20 gunmen assaulted a government security compound in Zinjibar, killing three policemen and wounding 11. Al Qaeda’s Arabian branch later claimed credit for the attack.
The attack on Thursday morning also appeared to be the work of Al Qaeda, according to Gen. Ahmed al-Maqdashi, the security chief of the Shabwa province. General Maqdashi added that the attack was carried out in coordination with “subversive elements,” official shorthand for the separatist Southern Movement.
The Southern Movement’s leaders say they fight for economic justice and reject violence. But the movement is diverse, and some analysts said they feared that fringe elements may be collaborating with Al Qaeda.
The movement emerged three years ago with demonstrations by military retirees demanding that their pensions be paid. Since then, most members have started demanding secession from the north. North and south Yemen were separate countries before 1990. The north put down a rebellion by southerners in 1994.
Nasser Arrabyee contributed reporting from Sana, Yemen.