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SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen's Shi'ite northern rebels accept the government's terms for a ceasefire, their leader said on Saturday, but there was no immediate response from the authorities.
Yemen, facing insurgency in the north and secessionists in the south, has been under international scrutiny since the Yemeni arm of al Qaeda claimed responsibility for an abortive bid to blow up a U.S.-bound plane with 300 people on board.
"In order to avoid ... the annihilation of civilians, we reiterate our acceptance of the five points" for a ceasefire, rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi said in an audio recording posted on the Internet. "The ball is now in the court of the other side."
Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, has been battling the intermittent revolt since 2004. The fighting intensified in August when the army launched a major offensive named Operation Scorched Earth, and the conflict drew in Saudi Arabia in November when the rebels seized some territory on its border.
Government conditions include removal of rebel checkpoints, withdrawal of forces and clarification of the fate of kidnapped foreigners. The rebels must return captured military and civilian equipment and not enter local politics.
Britain hosted talks in London this week to try to prevent Yemen becoming a failed state after the abortive December 25 attack on a plane approaching Detroit drove home how al Qaeda could threaten Western interests from Yemen.
Western powers, neighbors and financial institutions pledged to support and help finance Yemen's efforts to impose law, order and stability.
Houthi said the rebels had launched three initiatives in the past to end the conflict but were rebuffed by the government. There was no immediate official word from Sanaa.
The rebels, under almost daily attack by the Yemeni and Saudi air forces and artilleries, have reported the killing of many civilians in the bombardments.
The U.N. refugee agency said on Friday that fighting between government forces and rebels in northern Yemen was spreading and that the five-year conflict had driven 250,000 people from their homes, deepening a humanitarian crisis.
The rebels said on Thursday that Saudi air and artillery attacks continued despite a truce offer to the Saudi government.
Riyadh declared victory over the rebels on Wednesday following the ceasefire offer from the insurgents, who said they had withdrawn from Saudi territory.
Yemeni forces on Saturday captured an al Qaeda militant wearing an explosive belt who was planning a suicide attack on "economic facilities," a government official said.
Yemeni Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Megawar told Reuters this week on the sidelines of the London conference that the northern rebels struck at the heart of government.
"We consider what is happening in the north is a revolt against the constitution and the law. How can you solve a problem with insurgents who have revolted against the state and who have taken up arms against the government and who are seeking to have their own autonomy?" Megawar said.
Of Yemen's population of 23 million, more than 40 percent live on less than $2 a day, and the country's foreign minister said on Tuesday that unemployment stood at 30 percent.