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Yemen Rebels Return Saudi Prisoner

  • Heather Murdock

The Yemeni government says a rebel militia it has been battling for six years, has handed one of five Saudi Arabian prisoners over to a ceasefire committee.

A shaky ceasefire in Yemen appears to be gaining ground.

Yemen's government says Houthi rebels are giving back five prisoners from Saudi Arabia. It says one is in the custody of a committee in charge of overseeing a fragile, three-day-old ceasefire. The Houthis say they are taking down roadblocks, rooting out landmines and opening their territories to government and humanitarian workers.

In Sa'ada, where the Houthis are based, 13 Yemeni soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash today, but the Yemeni government says it was a technical error, not an attack.

U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton appears hopeful. As part of her Gulf tour, she released a statement saying the ceasefire committee was "representing all parties" and beginning the process of "reconciliation and reconstruction."

But member of parliament, and son of the deputy minister of defense, Mohammad Rashad al-Alimi says it is not simple and nothing is guaranteed.

Al-Alimi says the Houthis have pledged to submit to the government's conditions for peace, but have not yet fulfilled their promise. He says it is not clear when or if all the detainees will be returned, that landmines are still littered across the north, and many roads are still closed.

As part of the ceasefire agreement, the rebels also agreed to abandon military posts, return captured weapons, stop cross-boarder attacks into Saudi Arabia, and submit their territories to Yemeni law. In return, the Yemeni government has promised to halt military operations against the rebels.

Friday, a senior Yemeni official said rebels attacked his convoy less than an hour after the ceasefire began, killing at least one soldier. The Houthis later denied targeting the official, saying northern Yemenis were busy removing mines, and opening roads.

The Houthi Web site said people in the north are "overjoyed" to clear the way for emergency shipments of food, water and medicine. But according to Al-Alimi, not everyone in Sa'ada reads the Web site.

Al-Alimi says orders from the top do not always reach the guys on the ground. The Houthis are also made up of several groups. Some groups may not even know about the ceasefire. Other groups may not agree. In the next few days, he says, it will become clearer if the ceasefire will last.

Since the war began in 2004, it has stopped and re-started six times. The war has escalated since early August, displacing about 200,000 people.

On a broad dusty street in the Hadda Medina area of Sana'a, Mohammad al-Shelafi, a grocer, said this war is a constant threat to the impoverished country's already-fragile stability.

God knows the real intention of the government and rebels, he says. But this time if the war really does end it needs to be over for good.