YEMEN: Renewed violence stops IDPs from returning home
Photo: Paul Stephens/IRIN
IDPs in Mazraq camp have fled several rounds of fighting in Saada
AMRAN, 22 November 2010 (IRIN) – Dozens of people have been reportedly killed and several injured in ongoing clashes between Houthi-led Shia rebels and pro-government tribesmen in Qutaber and Bani Awair districts in the northern Saada governorate.
The independent news website al-Tagheer.com reported that some 23 people have been killed and nine others injured on both sides since 20 November in clashes in Qutaber district between the Houthi and Jalha tribesmen, who are loyal to the government. It added that similar fighting between the rebels and pro-government tribesmen in Bani Awair district, in the southwestern part of the governorate, left six dead and another three injured.
The violence first broke out on 15 November, but stopped two days later for the Muslim holy period of Eid-al-Adha, before resuming on 20 November, Abdullah Dhahban, a local council member, told IRIN from Saada city.
"More than a dozen Houthi gunmen were killed before Eid-al-Adha," he said, adding that the violence was the worst since a ceasefire agreement in mid-February 2010 ended the sixth round of fighting between the government army and Houthi rebels. The secessionist conflict stretches back to 2004.
Dhahban said he expected the violence to escalate as three Houthi figures, including the brother of the rebels’ spokesman, Mohammed Abdussalam, are being held captive by the pro-government al-Teis tribe in the Ban Awair district.
The clashes, now in their seventh day, have discouraged internally displaced persons (IDPs) sheltering in the neighbouring Amran governorate from returning home, in line with government lobbying.
"I and my wife and our three children returned from the border between Saada and Amran governorates on the day before Eid, having heard about renewed violence," said Mukhtar al-Shami, from Qutaber district, who had been sheltering with his family in a rented flat in Amran city.
"Now we are looking for another apartment, as the owner of the previous one refused to allow us in, claiming that he already had a lease with other tenants. Returning home under the current situation is a risky adventure. I don’t know when it is possible for us to return,” he added.
According to Bandar al-Khadari, supervisor of the Khaiwan IDP camp in Amran governorate, dozens of families had planned to return home just a day before Eid-al-Adha, but could not due to the fighting.
"Eid-al-Adha is a holy occasion, which is why several families were serious about returning home. Renewed clashes, however, deprived them of enjoying this occasion," Al-Khadari told IRIN.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that more than 300,000 people remain displaced and need help.
"Until 22 October, only around 20,000 IDPs have returned to their homes in Saada governorate," the agency said, adding that lack of security and safety, fear of reprisals or new fighting, and extensive destruction of houses and infrastructure were the main reasons delaying IDP returns.
In some Saada districts hardest-hit by fighting, extremely high malnutrition rates have been recorded.
Sheikh Faris Manaa, a tribal leader and a small weapons importer from Saada governorate, is leading mediation efforts in a bid to reinforce the February ceasefire agreement.
"We are doing our best to stop bloodshed of our brothers, as well as restore security and stability to Saada," Manaa said.
He added that their efforts were made all the harder due to the absence of effective government authority in several parts of Saada. "The state is only controlling Saada city while the remaining parts of the governorate are controlled by Houthis and other tribesmen," he said.
Dhaifallah Sulaiman, secretary-general of the local council in the governorate’s Razih district, said the government was in the process of restoring its presence throughout the governorate. "This will take place fully following reconstruction of public facilities and buildings damaged or destroyed during the conflict," he said.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]