SANAA (AFP) – The Yemeni army said fighting halted on all fronts on Friday as a truce with Shiite rebels came into force six months after the government ordered a major offensive to try to end a six-year uprising.
“Calm reigns on all fronts from Saada and Malahidh (in the far north near the Saudi border) to Harf Sufian,” further south, one field commander said.
Another military source said the air force had halted all of its sorties over the combat zone from the moment the truce went into force at midnight (2100 GMT Thursday).
President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced the ceasefire late on Thursday and rebel leader Abdul Malak al-Huthi ordered his fighters to respect it.
Army commanders said they had seen rebel fighters start work on removing the roadblocks they have maintained on some of the trunk routes through the northern mountains blocking government traffic.
The six-point truce requires the rebels to reopen three major routes in the first stage of implementation: the road between Saada, Harf Sufian and the capital Sanaa; the road from Saada west to Malahidh, and the road from Saada east to Al-Jawf.
Commanders said they also saw rebel fighters removing landmines from around some of their positions.
But in a sign of the distrust still felt by some within the army after six years of conflict, one officer told AFP he was waiting to see whether the rebels really respected the truce.
“We are holding our positions and keeping our fingers on the trigger,” the officer said, asking not to be named.
Only on Thursday, an official told AFP that 12 soldiers and 24 rebels had been killed in heavy clashes in Amran province, north of the capital.
The last round of fighting erupted after a sudden rebel attack in Burkat al-Shamsi district late on Wednesday, the official said.
Separate clashes broke out around the same time in the Al-Uqab suburb of Saada town, killing seven soldiers and 11 rebels.
The government had originally set five terms for a truce — withdrawal from government buildings, return of weapons seized from the security forces, freeing of all prisoners including Saudis, and abandoning captured army posts, as well as the reopening of roads.
But agreement on the truce was delayed after the government added the sixth condition — a rebel pledge not to attack Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis joined the fighting in November after accusing the rebels of killing a border guard and occupying two small villages.
Saudi ground troops as well as aircraft repeatedly engaged the rebels in operations that the rebels complained continued even after their fighters had withdrawn from all Saudi territory they occupied during the fighting.
Yemeni officials have said that the neighbouring kingdom will be represented on some of the committees being set up to oversee implementation of the ceasefire.
There has been no reliable death toll from the fighting as reporters have been barred from the war zone but aid agencies say as many as 150,000 people have fled their homes.
The authorities have accused the rebels of seeking to restore the Zaidi Shiite imamate that ruled in Sanaa until its overthrow in a 1962 republican coup that sparked eight years of civil war.
The rebels, who since 2004 have protested of economic and political discrimination against the north’s Zaidis, have repeatedly denied the charge as well accusations of military support from Shiite Iran.
An offshoot of Shiite Islam, the Zaidis form the majority community in the north of the country but are a minority in mainly Sunni Yemen. The president is himself a Zaidi.
An end to the fighting will spell some relief for the Sanaa government, which is also battling Al-Qaeda loyalists and is facing separatist sentiment in southern Yemen.