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Middle East
Deaths as Yemen rejects talks
Deadly fighting continues in north as government rejects opposition talks proposal.
Last Modified: 11 Sep 2009 01:13 GMT

Yemen's military has been battling Houthi fighters in the north since 2004 [Reuters]

Yemen's government has rejected proposals by the opposition for talks on ending conflict in the north.

The National Committee for Dialogue had this week urged the government to seek non-military solutions to the conflict with Shia Houthi fighters in the mountainous province of Saada.

Hameed al-Ahmar, an opposition leader, had called for "dialogue and national co-operation" to find "solutions that save the state" and restore "the peaceful unity of Yemen".

But Hasan Ahmad al-Lawzi, the information minister, said on Thursday that Yemenis should fully back the government's stance.

"What we need today is to gather all efforts to strengthen security and stability in our country, and to direct all our thoughts in the direction of the state, the government and security and military services to face the operations of sabotage and aggression against our people as well as security and stability of our country," he said.

'Heavy losses'

Meanwhile on Thursday, the government said it had inflicted "heavy losses" on opposition fighters in the latest clashes.

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At least 17 suspected Houthi fighters, named after the group's leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, were killed overnight in clashes in Saada, local news agencies reported on Thursday.  

"The army and security forces have inflicted heavy losses upon the saboteurs and the rebels whether in terms of lives or equipment," the Saba news agency quoted a local official as saying.

Several vehicles carrying aid, ammunition and weapons were destroyed as military aircraft bombarded the area, the military said.

But the fighters also claimed victory in the intense fighting.

Mohammed Abdel-Salam, a rebel spokesman, said his movement was able to repel the army assault, destroying their tanks and causing a "large loss of life".

The conflict between the Houthi fighters, who belong to the Shia Zaidi sect, and government forces first broke out in 2004, but fighting intensified last month as the group pushed to topple the government.

The five year battle has forced 150,000 people from their homes, many.

Internally displaced

Many of them have relocated to the al-Mazraq refugee camp on the border with Saudi Arabia.

Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from the al-Mazraq refugee camp, said that there was heavy fighting about 15km away from his position near the border with Saudi Arabia.

UN agencies estimate up to 100,000 more people have been displaced recently
Thousands of people have fled the fighting and aid groups have warned of a possible humanitarian crisis in the remote region. 

"They are asking the government and international aid agencies for more support - medical assistance, drinking water, tents and food," Ahelbarra reported.

"There are huge expectations that the international community and the Yemeni government will step up efforts to provide them urgently with the needs they want.

"They are lacking all the basic needs that. These people have been stranded not only in these camps. Some of them decided to go to Saudi Arabia to seek shelter, but they were kicked out. Then they had to come back to this mountainous area.

The Yemeni government is concerned that the battle could become a prolonged conflict forcing it to seek international assistance for the internally displaced people.

A ceasefire was announced last Friday after aid agencies asked for access to the displaced, but fighting resumed just four hours later.

Laure Chedrawi, the public information officer for the UN refugees agency (UNHCR), told Al Jazeera on Thursday that it was currently impossible to reach the displaced from Yemeni territory.

"UNHCR is attempting a cross-border operation from inside Saudi Arabia" she said.

"The stockpiles of non-food items are ready on the Saudi side of the border to be dispatched to Saada as soon as the green lights are given by both the Yemeni government and the Saudi government."

UN agencies estimate the conflict has added another 50,000 to 100,000 people to those previously left homeless by earlier fighting in one of the poorest Arab countries.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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