Thursday, 1 July 2010

YEMEN: Government moves to speed up refugees returns

Source: IRIN


- The Yemeni government has announced a new “reconciliation deal” with Houthi-led Shia rebels in the northern governorate of Saada in a bid to bolster the February 2010 ceasefire and encourage the return of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

"The deal stipulates that Houthis must stop digging trenches and ensure security along roads and in mosques and schools to encourage the return of IDPs," Rashad al-Alimi, the minister of local administration, said on 28 June.

He said the deal was an extension of the ceasefire which, among other things, stipulated that the Houthis release captured personnel and hand back equipment.

"It binds them [Houthis] to free all captive soldiers and return all military and civil equipment they took away, in exchange for releasing their followers detained in government jails.

" Local independent news website says the deal was signed on 21 June, but for unknown reasons announced only on 28 June.

It quoted local experts as saying the deal contravened the ceasefire agreement. "The Houthis succeeded in changing the issue from armed rebellion into a tribal conflict," the website said, adding that Houthis are continuing to purchase weapons and ammunition.

Analysts who preferred anonymity said the new deal is an attempt to end an increasing number of clashes between rebels and pro-government clansmen which have begun to evolve into tribal revenge killings.

"Both sides must make concessions and respect the agreement to allow displaced families to return home," Mohammed al-Dhahri, a professor at Sanaa University, told IRIN.

Tribal conflicts had a long and complex history and the government and Houthis were keen not to stir up animosities, he said. Slow IDP return The return of displaced families to their areas of origin has been slow due to sporadic ceasefire violations in some districts of Saada and Amran governorates.

"Too many IDPs don't want to return home… They are sceptical about security and stability being restored to Saada,” Dhafallah Sulaiman Shaeb, secretary-general of Razih District local council in Saada, told IRIN.

"They see this [deal] as one of a series of ineffective agreements that failed to end the six-year conflict," he said. According to a recent report by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR - not yet available on the Internet), lack of basic services and security concerns, including fear of retaliation from the Houthis, have been hampering IDP returns.

As of 14 June, UNHCR said that of a total 316,332 registered IDPs only about 10 percent had returned. The IDPs were registered in Sanaa (16,820), Saada (110,000), Hajjah (123,058), al-Jawf (17,794) and Amran (48,660) governorates.

Hundreds of people have died in clashes between the Houthi-led rebels and government forces in intermittent fighting since 2004.

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