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Activists warn against protracting war in the north

Thousands of people in Saada depend on aid as their farms and houses were destroyed during fighting between government forces and rebels.

A number of activists and members of the Yemeni Parliament have called on the government and Shia rebels to stop fighting in the northern governorate of Saada as the humanitarian situation in the area has worsened.

The call came during a symposium held on 28 June in the capital, Sanaa, by Hiwar Forum, a local non-governmental organization (NGO), to discuss ways of building peace and the role of mediation committees.

Observers say the current round of fighting, which began in May 2008, is the fiercest since fighting first broke out between government forces and rebels in 2004. Such is the intermittent nature of the clashes over the past four years that the current cycle is being referred to as the ‘fifth war’.

For the first time, the fighting had extended to Harf Sufian in Amran province and Bani Hushaish district, 20km northwest of Sanaa city, but security officials said they had restored control of those areas but were still fighting the rebels in Saada Governorate.

''The war can be stopped at any time should there be a political will. The authorities can end it whenever they want.''

120,000 civilians affected

Abdul-Rasheed al-Faqih, general supervisor of Hiwar Forum, said the war had caused a humanitarian catastrophe, and hundreds of thousands of civilians had been affected.

"Statistics show that 120,000 people have been directly affected by the four-year war, which is responsible for 20,000 orphans, 10,000 handicapped people, 9,000 war widows, 6,000 families that lost their bread-winners, and a large number of military and civilian deaths," he said.

Mediation committees

According to participants at the symposium, since 2004 there have been seven mediation committees that have tried to end the fighting in Saada.

Hassan Zaid, secretary-general of al-Haq opposition party and a former member of a mediation committee, said at the symposium that the government was prolonging an unnecessary conflict.

“The war can be stopped at any time should there be a political will. The authorities can end it whenever they want," he said.

MP Aidarous al-Naqeeb said the authorities accuse al-Houthi followers of trying to re-install an Islamic imamate governing system, which would override the country’s secular government structure. But al-Naqeeb said he could see no reason for the war dragging on so long.

Photo: United Nations
A map of Yemen highlighting Saada province

"I, as a member of the parliament, do not know how the war broke out and continued for years," he said. “We know what is going on in Nahr al-Bared [Lebanon] and Kandahar [Afghanistan], but not Saada. Aid agencies do not know the number of deaths, displaced families and destroyed houses. This war is crazy and arbitrary, and only war dealers benefit from it."

Medical assistance suspended

Meanwhile, international NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said it suspended its activities in Saada and evacuated its team on 17 June due to heavy fighting.

In a statement released on 27 June, the organisation said access to Saada was impossible for security reasons and it was difficult to assess what was happening in the areas of fighting or those controlled by rebels.

"Since 10 May, MSF had been unable to deploy assistance in satisfactory conditions, whether for treating injured or assisting displaced persons," MSF said in a statement.

MSF also expressed its concern over the lives of injured civilians who were unable to get medical care. "Most civilians have no access to adequate care structures. Civilians cannot always get to a hospital, either on account of the danger of travelling through the fighting [areas]... Even for medical staff, access to hospitals and health centres is complicated, sometimes impossible," it said.

MSF began its activities in Haidan district in Saada in September 2007 before extending to Razeh and al-Talh districts.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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