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Armed Conflicts Report

Yemen (2004 - first combat deaths) 
Update: January 2009
Summary
Type of Conflict
Parties to the Conflict
Status of Fighting
Number of Deaths
Political Developments
Arms Sources

Summary:
2008 Increased violence in Yemen during 2008 saw some of the fiercest fighting since the creation of the government-rebel conflict in 2004. It has been referred to as the fourth outbreak of hostilities since 2004. Clashes of violence in early 2008 moved both government and rebel groups away from a continued ceasefire. Due to the re-emergence of conflict, thousands of Yemeni civilians continued to be internally displaced as their homes and villages were often destroyed. Many seek refuge in national and international aid camps however they have not received adequate relief supplies. Levels of violence seen early in the year eased in late 2008 to allow for a ceasefire and prisoner exchange by both the government and rebel groups. Multi-party parliamentary elections are to be held in early 2009 that will have oversight by international monitors due to the political instability that still exists within Yemen.
2007 The violent fighting between Yemeni government forces and the rebel group Shabab al-Moumineen (The Youthful Believers) in 2007 was the third outbreak of hostilities between the two sides since June 2004. Shabab al-Moumineen rejects the Yemeni government which they deem corrupt and too compliant with American and Israeli governments. Many suspected followers of Shabab al-Moumineen were detained in 2004 and 2005, but the Yemeni government released over 600 detainees in 2006. Elections held in September 2006 were generally considered free and fair with President Ali Abdullah Saleh being re-elected by a large majority. Several thousand are estimated to have been killed in the three outbreaks of violence, with tens of thousands estimated to have been displaced from their homes. An uneasy June 2007 ceasefire agreement lasted throughout the remainder of the year and with the help of the Qatari government, the agreement’s 10-point plan is intended for implemention in 2008.
Type of Conflict:
State control
Parties to the Conflict:
The Yemeni Government: Yemen is currently governed by President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Mujur. The Yemeni military is comprised of an Army, Navy, Air Force and recently-added Coast Guard.
versus
1) Shabab al-Moumineen (commonly known as The Believing Youth or The Young Faithful Believers): an Islamic rebel group located in the mountains of northern Yemen. Originally founded and run by Zaydi religious figure Hussein al-Houthi, his death at the hands of government forces in 2004 has led to a power shift to his elderly father Badr Eddin Houthi and his brother Abdul Malak Houthi. The group is a fierce opponent of al Qaeda, while at the same time sharing an extreme dislike for America and Israel. The group claims to fight against the democratic and Western ideals that are being introduced by the current government, which they consider illegitimate.
“The mountain revolt is led by a Zaydi religious figure, Hussein al-Houthi, who leads a student movement committed to Islamic reform, the Shabab al-Mu-mineen, “The Young Believers.” Al-Houthi was a member of Yemen’s parliament from 1993-97. Unconnected to the mainstream of Sunni radicalism, al-Houthi is a fierce opponent of al-Qaeda, which cemented its anti-Shi’ite reputation by participating in the Taliban’s massacre of Afghan Shi’ites. Like the Sunni militants, however, al-Houthi’s most scathing invective is reserved for America and Israel, whom al-Houthi alleges are conducting an anti-Muslim campaign throughout the Middle East.” [The Jamestown Foundation, 12 August, 2004]
Supported by:
The governments of Iran and Libya: Yemen alleges that both Iran and Libya have been supplying funding and assistance to Shabab al-Moumineen, an involvement that the Iranian and Libyan governments have wholly denied.
“Officials in Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and in Yemen's government suspect Iran and Libya support the al-Zaydi rebels. Sunni governments in the region suspect Shiite Iran is trying to increase its influence by supporting Shiite groups such as the militias in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon.” (ABC News, 8 May, 2008)
“Last week, members of the Yemen Supreme Defense Council voiced concerns, saying the Shiite rebels were receiving funds and assistance from outside countries, according to one of the council’s members. The member, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, did not name the countries. But state-owned newspapers have reported that the government suspects Iran and Libya are backing the rebellion.” [Jihad Watch, 20 February, 2007]
“Officials accuse Iran and Libya of supporting the rebels, though both countries deny this. Officials say such accusations are based on repeated visits of Yahya al-Houthi to Iran and Libya and sympathetic stories in their media.” [Al-Ahram Weekly, 29 March-4 April, 2007]
“Iran’s embassy in Yemen has denied that Tehran has a role in the clashes, Iran’s state-run news agency, IRNA, has reported.” [Y Net News, 6 March, 2007]
2) al-Quaeda suffered serious set-backs in the early 2000’s when its leadership was either killed or imprisoned. This changed with a 2006 escape from prison by Nasir al-Wahayshi, a former secretary of Osama bin Laden, who has since been rebuilding al-Quaeda in Yemen.
“The man most responsible for the growing strength of al-Quaeda in Yemen is a 32-year-old former secretary of Osama bin Laden named Nasir al-Wahayshi. He took over the leadership of the group when it had all but been eliminated, and has slowly, over the past two years, resurrected al-Quaeda in Yemen.” [Terrorism Focus, Vol 5, Issue 11, March 18, 2008]
3) Islamic Jihad, an al-Quaeda inspired jihadi group that has been building in Yemen.
“The deadly car bombing outside the US embassy in Yemen represents an escalation in attacks against Western targets and shows al Quaeda-inspired kihadis are growing in ability and determination. Islamic Jihad had claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed 16 people but it is possible that other groups will come forward in the next few days.” [BBC News, September 17, 2008]
Status of Fighting:
2008 Early 2008 saw a step back from the 2007 Qatari mediation which sought to end violence in the region. A violent outbreak in early January between government forces and Al-Houthi Shiite rebels in the northern Saada province resulted in 30 casualties. This breakdown of the 2007 Qatar ceasefire prompted a state of emergency declaration. Observers to the conflict have claimed that the escalation of recent violence has been the most dramatic since the emergence of government and rebel conflict in 2004.
September 2008 saw the largest attack on Yemeni soil since the 2002 bombing of the French supertanker Limburg when a double suicide car bombing at the U.S. embassy reportedly killed 17 people. This attack was claimed by Islamic Jihad, a new group inspired by al-Quaeda in Yemen who themselves claimed responsibility for a July suicide bomb attack against a building housing Yemeni security forces which reportedly killed 10 and wounded 12.
Recent reports on conflict-related deaths have been restricted due to government information blackouts therefore eye witness accounts have constituted the bulk of conflict allegations. Up to 130,000 civilians have been internally displaced from their homes 60,000 of which have sought refuge in national and international aid agencies located in the northernmost town of Sa’dah. Due to the effects of the domestic conflict, particularity in the north, limited relief efforts and resources have made their way to the aid agencies. Tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced to rural areas outside of Sa’dah town which do not receive any form of relief.
“A Qatari-brokered truce ended six months of intense fighting in June [2007] but violence has increased in recent weeks as a lack of trust on both sides and disagreements over the release of prisoners and handover of arms threaten to undermine the deal.” (Al Arabia, 4 May, 2008)
“Fighting between the rebels, members of the Shi'ite Muslim Zaydi sect led by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, and government forces had flared up after previous attempts to end hostilities in the northern province of Saada, including a 2007 Qatari mediation which was revived this year.” (Reuters, 17 July, 2008)
“As of October 2008, up to 70,000 people in remote areas and towns remained outside the reach of aid agencies.” (Human Rights Watch, 19 November, 2008)
2007 The third wave of fighting in the sporadic three-year insurgency between the government and Shabab al-Moumineen began at the end of January 2007. The recent fighting was more intense than in the previous outbreaks of 2004 and 2005, which claimed 500-1,000 and 1,500 lives respectively. There was no data with regards to casualties in 2006, but they were said to be significantly lower than those of the previous year. Renewed fighting in 2007 saw over 500 deaths in the first two months of fighting alone. An uncertain ceasefire suspended fighting in June and has lasted into the New Year, but tensions in the region remain high as the Qatari government attempts to assist the Yemeni government in implementing the 10-point plan agreed to in a June 2007 ceasefire agreement.
“The rebel fighters are followers of a Shia cleric, Hussein al-Houthi, from the country’s Zaidi Shia minority and are based in Al-Naqaa, a mountainous area in southern Saudi Arabia. This is the third outbreak of fighting in recent years, with hundreds dead and many injured and homeless. The recent fighting is more intense than past outbreaks.” Officials estimate that there are less than 3,000 rebels, but they can not say why the two-months campaign against them involving 30,000 troupes (sic) has not been able to contain them.” [Al-Ahram Weekly, 29 March-4 April, 2007]
“Estimates of civilian deaths ranged from 500-1,000 according to Amnesty International (AI).” [U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Yemen 2004, 28 February, 2005]
“The government confirmed that 500 troops were killed, however, press reports estimated that approximately 500 troops and ‘hundreds’ of rebels were killed during the fighting. Unofficial sources estimated the death toll to be near 800 troops, 600 rebels, and less than 100 civilians.” [U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Yemen 2005, 8 March, 2006]
“The most recent clashes erupted in late January and have so far claimed the lives of more than 400 government troops and 136 rebels, officials have said.” [Y Net News, 6 March, 2007]
“Ceasefire deal agreed between government and Al-Houthi rebels, brokered by Qatar, 16 June after months of violence in Saada province.” [Crisis Watch, 1 July, 2007]
“A deal that ended six months of fighting between Yemeni government forces and Shi’ite Muslim rebels last month is close to collapse amid disagreements over the handover of weapons and prisoners.” [Reuters, 11 July, 2007]
“The deal, signed on 1 February between a Yemeni government delegation and the rebels, was aimed at implementing an earlier agreement signed by the two sides in June 2007, also following Qatari mediation. According to the 2007 agreement, the government was to reconstruct the war-affected areas and compensate affected families, while al-Houthi followers were to surrender their weapons. The 10-point agreement, however, has not been implemented, with each side accusing the other of breaching it.” [IRIN, 4 February. 2008]
Number of Deaths:
Total: Between 3,700 and 5,500 militants and civilians are said to have been killed since the first outbreak of violence on June 18, 2004. Accurate numbers have been difficult to obtain as the government continues to censor media coverage of the fighting between the Yemeni Army and Shabab al-Moumineen, but most deaths are said to be Army and rebel casualties with civilian fatalities being in the hundreds. Tens of thousands have also been displaced from their homes throughout the three-year insurgency.
[Sources: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Yemen. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 2004-2008; Media reports.]
“Yemen has endured a sporadic three-year insurgency that has claimed hundreds of lives.” [BBC News, 14 February, 2007]
“Since the military began fighting the rebels in the remote region of northern Yemen more than two months ago, nearly 300 rebels have been killed, according to military officials. Military officials said Monday that 144 Yemeni troops have been killed since January, though security officials earlier this month put the military’s casualties at 400 dead. There was no explanation for the conflicting numbers. Tribal leaders in the region say more than 30,000 residents have been displaced by the fighting in the past several months.” [The Associated Press, 19 March, 2007]
2008 No official fatality figures were available and media coverage of the conflicts was restricted but there were reports of over 50 civilian deaths and the US Department of State reported that 1,000 government troops were killed in May alone.
“There were no reliable estimates of numbers of rebels and civilians killed at year’s end. An estimated 1,000 government troops were killed and 3,000 wounded in May. International NGOs providing humanitarian assistance in Saada estimated that there were approximately 70,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Saada conflict.” [2008 Human Rights Report: Yemen, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 2009]
2007 An estimated 700-1,000 government troops died as a result of continued fighting between the Yemeni Army and Shabab al-Moumineen. No official year-end figures were available for rebel or civilian deaths, but several hundred rebels and civilians were killed in the conflict in 2007. There have also been tens of thousands displaced from their homes this year in the northern province of Saada.
“During a January-to-June third round of conflict which began in 2004, the government used heavy force in an attempt to suppress the al-Houthi rebels of Saada Governorate. Although there were no reliable estimates of numbers of rebels and civilians killed at year’s end, an estimated 700 to 1,000 government troops were killed and more than 5,000 were wounded.” [U.S. State Department, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Yemen 2007, 11 March, 2008]
“Some of these younger men have fought in Iraq, and they refuse all dialogue, seeing Yemen’s government as illegitimate. They appear to have been responsible for the suicide bombings in Marib Province last July in which eight Spanish tourists were killed, and two other suicide attacks on oil installations in 2006.” [New York Times, 28 January, 2008]
“‘The area has been blockaded by the army for 13 months. Families are unable to leave their area as the army is forcing them to remain there,’ he said. The al-Houthi spokesman also said that so far 10 children and eight women had been killed since the clashes flared up again in early January 2008.” [IRIN, 4 February, 2008]
“Rebels loyal to Abdul Malik Al-Houthi accepted a truce on June 16, halting clashes that have killed hundreds and displaced thousands in Yemen’s northern province of Saada this year.” [Reuters, 11 July, 2007]
“Clashes that erupted in the north of Yemen in January have left 416 government troops and 136 Shia rebels dead, officials say. The rebels condemn the government as being corrupt and too close to the West, while security forces accuse the Shias of receiving funds from abroad.” [Guardian Weekly, 9-15 March, 2007]
“Clashes between tribesmen and army personnel protecting Ukrainian Oil Company in Shabwa province killed 16, including 6 civilians, 8 November.” [Crisis Watch, 1 December, 2007]
“There are no official statistics on rebels casualties, but tribal officials have estimated that more than 100 have been killed since the clashes broke out in late January.” [Jihad Watch, 20 February, 2007]
Political Developments:
2008 Following a revised ceasefire accord reached between the Yemeni government and the al-Houthi Shi’ite rebels in early August, there was an exchange of prisoners between the parties. In spite of these positive moves, small outbreaks of conflict continued to erupt to the end of the year. Steps were also put in motion for multi-party parliamentary elections to be held in early 2009. Due to the fragile state of political affairs in Yemen, it has been decided that international monitors will assist in the elections.
“Regarding an exchange of prisoners detained in the conflict, tribal sources say Houthi field leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi last week released 117 military and security soldiers whom his gunmen had been detaining for months. On its side, the Yemeni government released 70 war prisoners seized from among Sa’ada residents.” (Yemen Times, 17 August, 2008)
“Yemen will allow international monitors to keep an eye on multi-party parliamentary elections early next year to ensure their fairness.” (Reuters, 29 Sept, 2008)
2007 A tentative ceasefire agreement between the government and Shabab al-Moumineen was reached in June 2007, which outlined plans for the government to reconstruct the war-affected areas while al-Houthi followers were to surrender their weapons. The deal remained shaky until a February 1, 2008 deal brokered by third parties in Qatar was created to outline the implementation of the first agreement. Mohammed Mujur was named the new Prime Minister in April after Abdul-Kader Bajammal resigned on March 31. The government continued to accuse Iran and Libya of supporting rebel group Shabab al-Moumineen, but both governments continue to deny any involvement. President Ali Abdullah Saleh remains in power after September 2006 presidential and local elections. The elections were considered generally ‘open and genuine’, however prior to elections, women’s groups rallied for more women candidates on a local level. More than 600 suspected al-Houthi supporters, who had been detained since the first wave of fighting between government forces and Shabab al-Moumineen in 2004, were released in March of 2006.
“The deal, signed on 1 February between a Yemeni government delegation and the rebels, was aimed at implementing an earlier agreement signed by the two sides in June 2007, also following Qatari mediation. According to the 2007 agreement, the government was to reconstruct the war-affected areas and compensate affected families, while al-Houthi followers were to surrender their weapons. The 10-point agreement, however, has not been implemented, with each side accusing the other of breaching it.” [IRIN, 4 February. 2008]
“Ali Mohammed Mujur was named the new prime minister of Yemen after the resignation of Abdul-Kader Bajammal on March 31.” (Crisis Watch, 1 April, 2007)
“Officials accuse Iran and Libya of supporting the rebels, though both countries deny this. Officials say such accusations are based on repeated visits of Yahya al-Houthi to Iran and Libya and sympathetic stories in their media.” [Al-Ahram Weekly, 29 March-4 April, 2007]
“Presidential and local elections in September were accompanied by sporadic clashes between rival party supporters, some arrest and the blocking of at least two independent websites by the government. However, the elections were assessed as generally ‘open and genuine’ by a European Union observer mission. President ‘Ali’ Abdullah Saleh was re-elected with a large majority. Before the election, women’s groups rallied in the capital Sana’a to call for more women candidates in the local elections, in which women comprised only 2 per cent of candidates.” [Amnesty International Report, 2007]
“Following the government’s release in March of over 600 al-Houthi supporters who had been detained in 2004 and 2005…there were a few small-scale skirmishes throughout the remainder of the year. Throughout the year the government began allowing aid organizations into the region to assist with rebuilding and resettlement efforts.” [U.S. State Department, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Yemen 2006, 6 March, 2007]
Arms Sources:
Russia is a primary weapons supplier to Yemen. Other countries that have supplied arms include France, Australia, and the Czech Republic. In 2003-2004, Yemen received permission to use US aid to purchase Russian MiG-29 fighter aircraft as part of the effort against terror.
[The Military Balance 2003-2005, The Military Balance 2006 to 2009 incl. ]
A vast weapons supply in the country means easy access to arms for rebels, and the while the government has an arms collection plan, it has yet to be completed.
“Yemen has also been shaken by a Shiite insurgency in its mountainous northwest that has claimed thousands of lives since 2004. The country is also awash with weapons, with roughly three firearms for every citzen.” [AFP, April 8, 2009]
“Like Afghanistan, Yemen has a weak government with strong tribes and mountainous terrain, and a vast weapons supply” [New York Times, 28 January, 2008]
“‘The implementation and collecting of weapons will be done in two stages: first, shops that sell weapons will be counted and registered, and weapons will be classified according to type and size,’ said al-Alimi. ‘Then, all medium and heavy weapons and explosives will be collected and shops will be completely and permanently banned from buying or selling such weapons.’” [IPS, 29 May, 2007]
“The survey suggests there are about nine million small arms in Yemen, in the hands of state personnel, tribesmen and vendors. But officials say the number is less than three million.” [IPS, 29 May, 2007]
 
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