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Despite 'Truce,' Clashes Kill 68 in Yemen

by VOA News December 19, 2015

At least 68 people have died in fierce fighting in northern Yemen in recent days, the country's military said Saturday, tainting an already fragile cease-fire between pro-government forces and Shi'ite Houthi rebels.

Security sources and witnesses said the clashes in Hajjah province killed about 40 rebels and at least 28 government troops, with dozens wounded on both sides.

The government troops advanced across the border from Saudi territory, where they had trained for months, and engaged units allied with the Shi'ite Houthi rebels, military sources said.

The combat came as U.N.-sponsored peace talks aimed at finding a settlement to the conflict in Yemen were underway in Geneva. Negotiations began Tuesday, when it was unclear whether the Iranian-backed Houthis would abide by the halt in fighting.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the negotiations, saying they were the only way to end the civil war.

The conflict between forces supporting President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi's government and the Houthi rebels has killed an estimated 5,700 people. Battles erupted in September 2014, when Houthis seized the capital, Sana'a, before pushing southward and forcing Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia as they took control of the port city of Aden.

The Saudi government, supported by other Gulf states, responded with airstrikes that have since pushed rebels out of Aden and allowed Hadi to return. Rebels still control Sana'a.

Last month, top regional U.N. official Johannes van der Klaauw said more than 21 million of the country's 27 million residents lacked basic necessities and urgently needed humanitarian assistance. He said aid workers were trying to stave off malnutrition among 3 million children and pregnant women in Yemen.

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