SANAA Jan 14 Yemen said it started moving a
group of ultra-orthodox Sunni Muslims out of their northern
stronghold on Tuesday, under a truce to end months of sectarian
clashes with Shi'ite Muslim Houthi rebels.
At least 210 people have been killed in the fighting, which
has raised the risk of wider sectarian conflict in a country
where instability has already helped al Qaeda militants take
The Houthis have long complained about a conservative Sunni
Salafi school set up in the middle of their mountain heartland
in the northern province of Saada.
Clashes erupted there on Oct. 30 after the Houthis accused
the Salafis in the town of Dammaj of recruiting thousands of
foreign fighters to attack them in the remote region near the
border with Sunni power Saudi Arabia.
Under a ceasefire reached on Friday, the Salafis were given
four days to relocate about 250 km (150 miles) southwest to the
Red Sea port of Hudaida.
Yehia Abuesbaa, head of presidential committee set up to try
to end the fighting, said four army helicopters had moved the
head of the school, Yahya al-Hujuri, and his aides.
"The rest of the Salafis, and 97 foreign students studying
in Dammaj, will be moved tomorrow," he added.
The sectarian rivalry has cast a shadow over reconciliation
efforts in Yemen, a U.S.-ally that is home to one of the most
active wings of the Sunni militant force al Qaeda.
The country, in turmoil since a popular uprising ousted
president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, is also facing southern
secessionists and an economic crisis.
The Salafis, who follow a strict interpretation of Sunni
Islam, say the foreigners are students seeking to deepen their
knowledge of Islam in the town's Dar al-Hadith seminary.
A number of previous ceasefire attempts have failed to take
hold. But Abuesbaa had said the latest one had a better chance
of holding because it included all factions involved in the
fighting in Saada and adjacent provinces.