15 killed in sectarian fight in northern Yemen

15 killed in sectarian fight in northern Yemen
# 17 February 2012 02:33 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. At least 15 gunmen were killed Thursday in clashes between a Shiite rebel group and Sunni fundamentalists in Yemen’s northern restive province of Saada, a local security official said, highlighting severe tension just four days ahead of presidential elections, APA reports quoting Xinhua.

"Four Sunni armed tribesmen and at least 11 Shiite rebels were killed, while more than 40 from each side were wounded in the fighting which took place in Kutaf district," the official told Xinhua by phone on condition of anonymity.

Saada and adjacent Hajja province, which bordering neighboring oil rich exporter Saudi Arabia, have recently become major fields of almost daily sectarian conflict between heavily armed Shiite and Sunni tribesmen. The conflict began nearly four months ago when religious-related dispute led the Shiite group to lay siege to Damaj, a small Sunni- held town in the northern province of Saada, triggering the fighting to spread to neighboring provinces of Hajja and several villages of Amran.

The Houthi-led Shiite rebels signed a ceasefire deal with the Yemeni government in August 2010, which put an end to an on-and- off war since 2004, but the clashes with local Sunni tribesmen are still rocking the region.

The tension has escalated after the central government control is weakened by one-year protests against outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh, as the well-armed rebel group has been trying to take advantage of the security vacuum to expand their control over the country’s northern regions.

Earlier this week, the Shiite rebels announced boycott to the sole-candidate presidential election scheduled for Feb. 21, as part of a UN-backed power transfer deal to ease Saleh peacefully from office and end the months-old unrest in Yemen.

The polls, in which current Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi is the sole candidate in accordance with the Gulf-brokered deal, are expected to take place amid heavy security and to be watched by international observers.

Hadi has pledged to launch a national dialogue based on openness, equity and mutual respect and involving all the Yemeni political forces, including the Shiite rebels and the southern separatist group, after he takes office.
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