Sana’a (AFP) – Clashes between Shiite rebels and a pro-government tribe in the mountains of northern Yemen killed a tribesman and two rebels, the tribe’s leader said on Friday.
But the Zaidi Shiite rebels, known as Huthis, denied any involvement, insisting that the clashes late on Thursday were the result of a vendetta between rival tribes.
“Armed Huthis attacked our men early yesterday evening in Nuchur, near Saada town, killing one of them and wounding two,” said Fayez al-Awjari, who is also an MP for the area.
“We organised an expedition and, in clashes lasting several hours, two Huthis were killed and five wounded,” Awjari said.
He said the fighting came just 24 hours after Qatari envoys had visited Saada, a rebel stronghold on the Saudi border, in their latest bid to negotiate the peaceful return of government employees to offices in the province under a February peace deal with the rebels.
“Tensions are running very high and clashes could resume at any moment,” Awjari said, adding that he was keeping his tribesmen on a war footing.
However, rebel spokesman Mohammad Abdel Salam, contacted on the telephone, said the clashes pitted the Awjaris against a rival tribe and that reports of any Huthi involvement were “totally false.”
Outbreaks of fighting have repeatedly rattled the fragile truce which the government and the rebels agreed in February.
The rebels draw their support from among followers of the Zaidi branch of Shiite Islam, who are in the minority in mainly Sunni Yemen but form the majority community in the north.
There have been six rounds of fighting between the rebels and government troops since the uprising first erupted in 2004. The conflict has killed thousands of people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.
The last round began with a government offensive in August 2009 and saw border clashes between the rebels and Saudi troops. It ended with February’s six-point peace plan.
The rebels complain that while they have freed government troops they captured during the fighting, hundreds of their own supporters remain in custody.
They are also demanding that the government honour pledges to spend more on developing the northern provinces.