SANAA, (Reuters) – A Yemeni ruling party official has accused Libyaand Iranian religious institutions of backing Shi’ite Muslim rebels who are battling government forces in the north of the Sunni-dominated country.
At least 105 soldiers and 90 rebels have died this year in sporadic but fierce clashes, according to government officials who say the rebels, led by Shi’ite leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, want to install religious rule.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh said in January that some countries were supplying Houthi’s group with weapons and financial support, but did not name them.
Tareq al-Shami, head of media for Saleh’s General People’s Congress, said Iranian security officials had also told Yemen that Iranian religious institutions were supporting the rebels, but they added the groups were not backed by Tehran. “There are Iranian religious institutions which are providing support,” Shami said on the party’s Web site on Thursday.
In March 2006, Yemen freed more than 600 Shi’ite rebels as part of an amnesty to end two years of clashes that have killed several hundred soldiers and rebels. But, “the Houthis have used a period of truce with the state to buy heavy weapons using foreign support money,” Shami said. He also said frequent visit by parliamentarian Yahya al-Houthi, a brother of Abdul-Malik, to Libya and “Libyan talk of mediation between the Houthis and the state represent evidence of Libyan backing to the rebels”.
Yahya is wanted in Yemen for instigating strife and involvement in what the government describes as terrorist activities. He has been stripped of his immunity at the government’s request but is now in Germany, officials said.
Yemen had asked Libya to extradite Yahya when he was in the north African Arab state, also dominated by Sunni Muslims.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh ordered the army last month to crack down on the rebels.
Shami said they were trying to replicate Iraq’s sectarian strife in Yemen and he renewed a call for them to abandon violence, hand over militia leaders and form a peaceful party.
Sunni Muslims are a majority in 19-million-strong Yemen, theancestral homeland of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Houthi and his supporters are not linked to al Qaeda.