Yemen's president warns rebels to disarm

After weekend clashes in Yemen that left at least seven dead, including six government soldiers, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh warned Shiite rebels to surrender or face a military campaign by the government.

The Arab News of Saudi Arabia reports that Mr. Saleh issued the warning to the rebels, who are led by Abdul Malek al-Houthi, at a meeting of military commanders Monday in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa.

"The terrorists and saboteurs led by Abdul Malik Al-Houthi should hand over their weapons and heavy arms to the leadership of the Saada province," Saleh said. ...

Saleh said if Al-Houthi and his supporters do not disarm, the army would be "blameless" for any action it takes against them. He accused the rebels of seeking to overthrow the republican regime.

"There is a special force ready to uproot them if they do not disband and put down their weapons as soon as possible. This operation would not take long," the Yemeni leader said. "We warn them, and the one who warns is excused."

The Associated Press reports that the fighting took place in the mountains of northern Yemen's Saada region, ending Sunday with overnight shelling of rebel positions by government artillery. A government official said Monday that the situation was now "calm," though police said that six Yemeni soldiers and officers were killed and 20 more wounded during the fighting.

However, AP writes, the rebels say that they killed eight government officers and wounded 31. The rebels also said that seven of their own people were killed in the fighting.

Mr. Houthi told the Yemen Observer that the government forces had attacked without provocation, and demanded an investigation into how such an attack took place.

[Houthi] said there were no reasons for the military campaign. He demanded a cease-fire and the formation of an investigative committee to determine the reasons for the military campaign against his group. "The campaign was launched without cause; we are in the state of self-defense as we have always been," Abdul-Malik al-Houthi told reporters by phone from Sa'ada on Monday.

Houthi leads the rebel group Al Shabab al-Moumin, or the Youthful Believers, whose members are predominately from the Zaidi Shiite sect, a minority in largely Sunni Yemen. The group has launched uprisings twice in years past, both under the leadership of Houthi's relatives: Hussein Badr Eddin al-Houthi, Abdul's brother and an anti-US Shiite cleric, led a three-month insurrection before he was killed in 2004, while their father, also named Hussein Badr Eddin, led a second uprising in 2005. The Houthis have sought to overthrow the nascent Yemeni republic, which they accuse of being too close to the US government, in favor of a Shiite theocracy.

The Jamestown Foundation, a US foreign policy think tank, writes that the Houthis have denied seeking to establish a theocracy, but other statements they've made suggest otherwise.

While denying that the purpose of [Youthful Believers] is to establish an imamate, al-Houthi the father clearly states his beliefs when responding to questions about democracy. According to him, there are two forms of legitimate government: an imamate ruled by Hashimites [members of the prophet Muhammad's family] or rule by any pious Muslim. He made his views clearer when directly confronted, stating that an imamate is the most preferred form of government. Houthi takes pains to distance himself from the idea of democracy, saying "We are for justice. We do not know this democracy you speak of."

Despite the group's religious motives, the Youthful Believers do not represent the mainstream of Yemen's Zaidi community, according to a Middle East Online report in 2005. The Zaidis, "who take their name from the Imam Zaid, recognised as the fifth and last imam, are generally considered as moderate and tolerant."

Many Zaidi scholars also do not recognise the Faithful Youth movement which they denounced after the first round of fighting, during which nearly 800 rebels were captured and who are still detained.

The rebels are also denounced by the moderate current within the Zaidi community, whose members include Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Sheikh Abdullah bin Hussein al-Ahmar, speaker of parliament and head of the main opposition Islamist Al-Islah party.

In a profile of President Saleh, Al Jazeera notes that the Shiite Zaidi sect is "known for its closeness to Sunni teachings." The profile also notes that while Saleh, himself, is Zaidi, he was part of a 1962 coup that overthrew Yemen's Zaidi imamate.

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