Yemen peace holds as toll mounts from week of clashes
Yemenis walk past oil tankers burnt during clashes between Shiite Huthi anti-government rebels and their opponents in Sanaa. (AFP/Mohammed Huwais)A Yemeni Shiite Huthi anti-government rebel sits in the back of a pickup truck with a mounted machine gun in Sanaa - AFP/Mohammed Huwais

SANAA: A peace accord appeared to be holding in Yemen Monday after a week of clashes between Shiite rebels and Sunni militiamen that the government said killed at least 200 people.

The Huthi rebels, who waged a decade-long insurgency in the mountainous north before launching a bid for power in Sanaa last month, were seen in the capital guarding government offices and army bases alongside troops.

Sunday’s UN-brokered deal, signed by the president and all the main political parties, aims o put the troubled transition back on track in impoverished Yemen, which borders oil kingpin Saudi Arabia and is a key US ally in the fight against Al-Qaeda.

Residents ventured into the streets of Sanaa as the guns fell silent following the clashes between the Huthis, also known as Ansarullah, and their Sunni Islamist opponents.

Commanders said they had orders to cooperate with the rebels, who manned joint checkpoints with troops outside the offices they entered in Sunday’s lightning advance, including the government headquarters, parliament, army command and the central bank.

“We are working side by side with Ansarullah to protect public buildings and property,” a military police commander told AFP at a checkpoint near the rebel-controlled state radio headquarters.

Emergency workers retrieved 53 corpses Monday from areas affected by the clashes, taking to 200 the number of bodies counted since the fighting broke out on September 16, the health ministry said.

They also ferried 461 wounded to hospitals.

The rebels hail from the Zaidi Shiite community, which makes up 30 percent of Yemen’s mostly Sunni population but is the majority group in the northern highlands, including Sanaa province.

The speed of their advance reflected the fragility of the regime three years after a deadly uprising which forced veteran strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh from power.

The rebels brought reinforcements into the capital overnight from their northern strongholds, carrying out searches of the homes of their Islamist opponents, sources said.

The Huthis also took control of at least 16 tanks and other armored vehicles from the armed forces headquarters and the base of the army’s Sixth Division, said an AFP correspondent.

And, according to the Twitter account of an Al-Qaeda-linked group, they also clashed with Islamist militants from Ansar al-Sharia in Al-Dali, a town 250 kilometers (155) south of Sanaa.

- New PM to be named -

In the confrontations in Sanaa, the Sunni militiamen included leading figures in the Islah party as well as General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a veteran army officer close to the Islamists.

Under Sunday’s deal, President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi has three days to bring a rebel representative into government as an adviser and to name a neutral replacement for prime minister Mohamed Basindawa.

Basindawa tendered his resignation as the security forces surrendered state institutions without a fight on Sunday although it has yet to be accepted by the president.

In his resignation letter, Basindawa accused Hadi of being “autocratic”, according to the text released by the cabinet.

“The partnership between myself and the president in leading the country only lasted for a short period, before it was replaced by autocracy to the extent that the government and I no longer knew anything about the military and security situation,” he wrote.

A security protocol to Sunday’s agreement requires the rebels to hand over the institutions they have seized, and once a new prime minister has been named, to start dismantling armed protest camps they established in and around the capital last month.

But rebel representatives refused to sign the protocol at Sunday’s ceremony.

Rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdessalam said they would only do so once the security forces had apologized for the deaths of rebel protesters during an attempt to storm government headquarters earlier this month.

The deal also requires the president to name an adviser from the separatist Southern Movement which has been campaigning for the secession of the formerly independent south.

The southerners’ boycott of Hadi’s UN-backed plans for the transition has been another major obstacle.

Southern grievances have allowed parts of the region to become strongholds for Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, regarded by Washington as the jihadist network’s most dangerous arm.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Sunday’s agreement marked a “positive step towards political stability and peace,” according to his spokesman.

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