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YEMEN: Northern truce - window of opportunity

SANAA, 16 February 2010 (IRIN) - Government officials and aid workers are gearing up to carry out humanitarian needs’ assessments in previously inaccessible areas, thanks to an 11 February truce between Yemen’s army and Houthi rebels in the northern province of Saada which appears to be holding.

"Once security conditions allow it, a comprehensive needs’ assessment will be carried out in all war-affected districts," Pratibha Mehta, the UN resident coordinator in Yemen, told IRIN.

"This [the ceasefire] will enable humanitarian assistance to reach civilian populations who have been cut off from services since the outbreak of the sixth round of fighting in August 2009," she said.

Aid workers and local government officials are keen to make the most of the calm, but the track record of such ceasefires is not good, and helping the 250,000 internally displaced persons [IDPs] - scattered in several camps or staying with relatives - is difficult.

According to Saada Governor Taha Hajer, the ceasefire would help the government reconstruct Saada and allow IDPs to return to their homes. "We should put the tragic past [six months of fighting] behind us.”

“Fragile”

But analyst Mohammed al-Dhahri, a Sanaa University political scientist, told IRIN the truce was “fragile because it was not built on resolving the real causes of the problem".

"The government should go beyond calming the situation to looking at the real causes of the five-year-old war and working on addressing them if it wants the truce to remain in effect."

He believed Houthi fighters had little option but to agree to a ceasefire because they had run out of supplies, and that they would use the calm to regroup and launch fresh attacks - and he did not think the plight of IDPs had been a consideration in the ceasefire.

"The government might have faced pressure by the international community at the London conference earlier this month to stop waging a war that was getting more and more complicated without any indicators of victory," he said.

Six conditions

The government has forced the rebels to agree to six conditions: their withdrawal from official buildings; the reopening of roads in the north; the return of weapons seized from military and security forces; the release of all military and civilian prisoners, including Saudis; a pledge not to attack Saudi territory; and the abandoning of military posts in the mountains.

"We willingly accepted all the ceasefire conditions to stop bloodshed and alleviate the suffering of civilians affected by the war," Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdussalam told IRIN.

He said the rebels had abandoned their strategic positions, withdrawn from the perimeter of Saada airport, had begun dismantling roadblocks and were in the process of handing over Saudi prisoners of war to chief mediator Ali Karsha, a reputed tribal leader from the war-torn governorate.

Sceptical

Al-Dhahri was sceptical about IDP returns: "It is too early for IDPs to think about returning home… They need to wait for months or years until the sedition is completely exterminated."

He recommended that IDPs remain in camps so as to be easily accessible by aid agencies. "Many of them lost their homes and livelihoods to the fighting and it will be difficult for them to cope when they return home," he said.

Post-conflict calm phases can lead to the mass movement of people - either returning home or heading to the main cities where services and humanitarian aid are available, Rabab al-Rifai, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross, told IRIN. "People will be dependent on humanitarian aid for some time."

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Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs

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Copyright © IRIN 2010
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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