Clashes between two tribes in Amran Governorate, northern Yemen, have been taking place for over three months, and tribal leaders and observers fear the conflict could spill over into other northern areas.
Over 50 people, including women and children, have been killed in clashes between the Harf Sufian and al-Osaimat tribes since November 2008, according to local sheikhs. The tribes belong to powerful rival tribal coalitions, the Bakil and the Hashid.
Mohammed Aysh, an expert on tribal conflict in Yemen, said the clashes could lead to fighting between the Hashid and the Bakil. He pointed out that elements of the two tribal coalitions were engaged in highway robbery and abductions in late December; scores of people were abducted and their vehicles seized.
He said the clashes could lead to a shift in the balance of power, and a waning of the government’s authority over Bakil areas, which could come more and more under the influence of Shia rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, whose stronghold is in Saada Governorate.
“The Bakil tribes would successively support al-Houthi, especially as the government stance towards the conflict seems neutral,” he told IRIN.
|The conflict will continue until God or the state resolves it.|
The conflict has its roots in the early 20th century with disagreements over land known as al-Sawad, bordering al-Osaimat and Harf Sufian areas, but flared up again in the wake of the Saada conflict.
Throughout 2008, the Harf Sufian tribe (part of the Bakil coalition), supported al-Houthi in his fight against government troops in Saada. Harf Sufian leaders accuse the government of supporting the Hashid coalition in the current conflict.
A Harf Sufian tribal leader who preferred anonymity told IRIN the government was stirring up the conflict to take revenge on the Harf Sufian tribe for backing al-Houthi and killing a number of government soldiers.
“The al-Osaimat tribes [Hashid coalition] are supported by the state, which also gave them weapons,” he said, adding that heavy weaponry had been used in the conflict.
Al-Osaimat tribal leader
Sheikh Nasser Abu Shawsa of the al-Osaimat tribe said the current conflict had its origins in a dispute over the al-Sawad area, but denied the government was supporting his tribe against the Harf Sufian. He also accused Harf Sufian tribesmen of being followers of al-Houthi.
“The Houthis are supporting Harf Sufian against us. The dispute over that land [al-Sawad] is just an excuse…” he told IRIN.
According to Shawsa, 20 al-Osaimat tribespeople have been killed and another 60 wounded, with 30 killed and 80 wounded on the Harf Sufian side.
“The conflict will continue until God or the state resolves it,” he added.
Sheikh Bakil Hubaish, a prominent leader in Harf Sufian, said farms and houses had been destroyed, leaving some families homeless, but that the clashes had not affected development: “Illiteracy is rampant and if there is a school, you don’t find staff. There are no paved roads. People and children are accustomed to wars.”