Item 1: Sixth Saada Conflict Ceasefire Holds in Yemen
Yemen's Houthi insurgency seems to be coming to an end as rebels have withdrawn from an occupied airport and begun tearing down roadblocks, fulfilling the conditions of a cease-fire agreement with the government.
Yemen has come under intense international pressure to end the conflict to free up resources to confront an emerging threat from an al-Qaida offshoot that has set up operations in the country.
Earlier this week, Yemen's president declared an end to military operations against the Shiite militants after the rebels agreed to the government's cease-fire terms, sparking hopes Sixth Saada war would end.
Rebel spokesman Mohammad Abdel Salam said the militants have pulled out an airport in the northern city of Saada, and will allow planes to land there for the first time since the fighting intensified in August 2009.
Salam also said the Houthis, are working to return Saudi prisoners captured after neighboring Saudi Arabia entered the war in November 2009.
Several earlier cease-fires quickly disintegrated, mainly because the rebels said their demands were not addressed, and it was not clear whether the new deal would hold. But the rebels and the government have come under international pressure to end the conflict this time, and both sides appear eager to do so.
Still, government and rebel officials have cautioned there may be sporadic outbreaks of violence.
The Sixth Saada war started six months ago, claiming an undetermined number of lives and sending 125,000 people fleeing their homes. Saudi Arabia was drawn into the conflict in November after rebels crossed the border and killed two Saudi border guards. Some 133 Saudi soldiers have died in the fighting.
The militants declared a unilateral cease-fire with Saudi Arabia in late January. The Saudis have responded cautiously to the announcement, and demanded militants pullback from border positions and return five missing soldiers.
The rebels say their community of Shiite Muslims from the Zaydi sect suffer discrimination and neglect and that the government has allowed ultraconservative Sunni extremists too strong a voice in the country.
Analysis and Forecast: Decreasing Risk
The news appear to be the most firm ceasefire attempt to stop the six month old fighting in this long conflict that has plagued Yemen. Yemen has been under intense pressure to end this war as it’s battle with the Al Qaeda and southern seperatists intensify. The Saada war has been taking a lot of little resources the Yemeni government has making it increasingly difficult for the government to fight the Al Qaeda and southern seperatists threat.
The end of the conflict is also good news for Yemen and Saudi Arabia as the chaos created by the fighting has also contributed to making the porous Yemen-Saudi border a haven for Al Qaeda’s transfer of fighters and weapons.
However, as this is the Sixth War between the government forces and the Houthi rebels since Yemen’s reunification, it remains very fragile unless the government takes proactive measures to satisfy the needs of the impoverished Saada population, which, unlike the rest of the Sunni Yemen, is Shiite. Without this, the situation will easily be reignited.
Below is a figure showing the ethnic make-up of Yemen. Most the Shiites are in the northern Saada region.
Item 2: Tensions escalates in south Yemen as it turns lawless
Clashes in southern Yemeni province of Lahj led to the killing and injuring of a number of police and demonstrators calling for the secession of the south.
All businesses in the province were closed down amid fears by their owners the angry protestors could attack them after many similar incidents in the province and other southern provinces when stores were burned and looted by protesters. In particular, businesses owned by Yemenis from the north were burned down, with their owners reportedly fleeing the south.
Lahj, one of the southern provinces worst hit by rioting in recent years, has been experiencing deadly insecurity for two months, with exchanges of fire heard across it in the day and the night.
In Shabwa, a soldier was killed and three others were injured when unidentified gunmen intercepted and opened fire at a security patrol in Ataq city.
Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk
The situation in the south of the country has escalated to its worst since the end of the civil war in the mid 1990’s. Many parts of the south have become lawless and the central government has lost control. The lawlessness now appears to manifest itself in regular clashes that have intensified in recent days.
As the situation is left to escalate, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Yemeni government to take control. Even as the war in Saada appears to be ending, the situation in the south has deteriorated to a very dangerous point that will require much more resources than would have been required in 2009. The situation in the south is more complicated as many Al Qaeda supporters are based in the south (unlike the Shiite Saada region) and so the government might take the opportunity to use international resources provided to fight Al Qaeda to attack the southern seperatists, complicating the situation further.
Without a political situation to the southern problem, the situation is likely to keep escalating.