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Yemen announces cease-fire with northern rebels

Previous accords between the government, under pressure to deal with an Al Qaeda presence, and the Houthi rebels have not held. The conflict has killed hundreds and displaced more than 200,000.

February 12, 2010|By Jeffrey Fleishman

Reporting from Cairo — A cease-fire to end a sporadic five-year war between the Yemeni government and Shiite Muslim rebels in the north will take effect beginning Friday, according to an official statement released to Yemen's official news agency.

The announcement came as the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh also has been trying to defeat a resurgent Al Qaeda network and quell a deepening secessionist movement in the south. The war with the Houthi rebels in the northern mountains has killed hundreds of people, displaced more than 200,000 villagers and strained impoverished Yemen's military.

Word of the cease-fire followed a Thursday meeting between Saleh and members of parliament. The conditions include a number of concessions by the rebels, such as withdrawing from all districts in Saada province, clearing land mines, stopping incursions into Saudi Arabia and returning looted military equipment.

"The cease-fire comes to prevent bloodshed and bring peace into the region and it is conditional upon the commitment of the insurgents to implementing the conditions on the ground," said the government statement carried by Yemen's Saba news agency.

It is unclear whether the cease-fire will hold; agreements between the government and the rebels have long been tenuous. But an end of fighting would bring respite to a region that has been battered by artillery, missiles and fierce ground battles. Saudi Arabia entered the conflict in November after insurgents, who blamed the kingdom for aiding Saleh's forces, staged a cross-border attack.

Saudi Arabia reached a cease-fire with the rebels and declared victory in late January.

The Sunni Muslim-dominated government's war with the Houthis, based more on tribal and political grievances than religion, raised international concerns that it could draw in Shiite-dominated Iran. But the West's focus on Yemen shifted when the country's Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the failed bombing attack on a Northwest airliner bound for Detroit on Christmas Day.

Saleh has since come under growing pressure from Washington to more aggressively uproot the Al Qaeda offshoot group, which in recent years has used Yemen for training and staging operations.

jeffrey.fleishman

@latimes.com

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