Yemeni forces clash with Southern separatists

Source: Reuters

(Recasts with northern rebels) SANAA, Sept 28 (Reuters) – Clashes broke out in south Yemen on Monday between security forces and southern separatists, while the leader of a northern revolt accused the central government of marginalising Shi’ite Muslims. The United States and neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading oil exporter, fear the opposition to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rule in the north and south could play into the hands of al Qaeda, which has staged a comeback with attacks on government and foreign targets over the past two years. Witnesses said shelling and gunfire continued for over an hour in the town of Zinjabar in Abyan province on Monday around the house of a relative of Tareq al-Fadhli, a leading figure in an opposition grouping called the “Southern Movement”. It was the first report of violence in the south in over a month after several clashes earlier this year which resulted in deaths. Southerners say they have been marginalised politically and economically since unification in 1990. Former leader of the south Yemeni republic Ali Salem al-Beidh, in exile in Germany, addressed a rally of southern separatists by telephone this month to declare solidarity with the northern rebels who have taken up arms against Sanaa. In August the government of veteran ruler Saleh launched “Operation Scorched Earth” in a bid to crush the rebellion by Shi’ite Zaydi Muslims in North Yemen, who also complain of marginalisation and seek autonomy and an end to Saleh’s rule. Saleh said on Saturday the army was ready to fight Shi’ite rebels for years if necessary, calling on them to accept a ceasefire his government has proposed. Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, leader of the rebels, said in a response posted on the insurgents’ website that the war was a result of discrimination and persecution. “We suffer all forms of marginalisation on a religious level such as swapping out preachers and prayer callers for extremists who call people apostates … and create sectarian struggles,” he said, in reference to Saudi-influenced Sunni Islamists who have gained influence through Saleh’s alliance with Riyadh. He said the Zaydis bore the brunt of state repression, citing a list of 55 wanted people issued by the government that included Zaydi religious authority Sheikh Badreddine al-Houthi. “Since we are victims of aggression we will defend ourselves,” he said. “We demand our constitutional and legal rights as citizens and call on our Yemeni people to reject the authority’s policy of turning the people against each other.” The international aid group Oxfam warned this week that Yemen could soon face a humanitarian crisis as a result of the escalation of fighting. The rebels accuse Saudi Arabia, whose Wahhabi brand of Islam regards Shi’ites as heretics, of backing the government, while the government sees an Iranian hand behind the rebels. (Reporting by Mohammed al-Mukhashaf and Andrew Hammond; Editing by Charles Dick)
spotted by RS

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