SANAA, (Reuters) – A Yemeni court sentenced to death on Saturday two members of a northern insurgency movement which has raised fears that the Arabian peninsula nation might break up.
The two men were among a group of 12 on trial, and the rest were given sentences of up to 10 years in prison, the court announced.
The trials are of men captured during fighting last year. It is not clear how many have been killed or taken prisoner during fighting this year.
The Zaidi Shi’ite Muslims first took up arms against the rule of veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2004, citing political, economic and religious marginalisation by the Saudi-and Western-backed government. But the conflict intensified when the army unleashed Operation Scorched Earth on Aug. 11. Aid groups, which have been given limited access to the northern provinces, say up to 150,000 people have fled their homes.
Saleh, who also faces a separatist movement in the south, said last week that the army would crush the uprising “within days”.
Yahya al-Houthi, who is brother of the rebels’ leader in the northern Saada province, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, mocked Saleh in a statement issued from exile in Germany. He accused Saleh and the ruling elite of using the war in Saada to rally support and gather funds to maintain their hold on power.
“Saleh has begun robbing citizens through gathering aid for the displaced who are held in camps while they receive nothing and we see women and children fighting over pieces of bread on television,” he said.
The United States and Saudi Arabia fear that the instability in Yemen could also allow al Qaeda a new base for operations. Saudi Arabia says a number of wanted militants have fled there and al Qaeda has carried out a number of attacks on foreign and government targets in Yemen since 2007.