November 27, 2009 / 5:30 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 1 - Southern separatists end Yemen highway closure

* Traffic resumes between capital and Aden

* Red Cross sets up new camp as number of displaced grows

(adds details)

ADEN, Yemen, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Armed southern activists ended on Friday their protest which had closed down a main highway in Yemen in a resurgence of separatist unrest against the government.

Travellers said mediation by tribal leaders led to the departure of the gunmen belonging to the Southern Movement, who had blocked all traffic since late on Thursday on the road joining the capital Sanaa and the main southern port of Aden.

The road closure, a frequent protest tactic, had left dozens of travellers stranded during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

Five Yemenis died in clashes on Wednesday between security forces and southern separatists, who say the northern-based government marginalises and discriminates against the south, home to most of Yemen’s oil facilities.

Yemen, an impoverished country of 23 million, also faces a revolt by Shi’ite Muslims in the north while Saudi and Yemeni al Qaeda militants have regrouped on Yemeni soil and carried out attacks in the last two years.

In Geneva, the Red Cross said it had helped set up a new camp for people fleeing the war in the north.

"Increasing numbers of the displaced and residents are seeking our assistance, and we have just had to open a new camp," Irfan Sulejmani, an ICRC official in the northern province of Saada, said in a statement. The camp will eventually be able to host 1,000 internally displaced people, he said.

The fighting in Saada province has displaced 175,000 people, according to the United Nations.

The Shi’ite rebels say they are fighting social, economic and religious marginalisation by the Sanaa authorities and accuse Sunni neighbour Saudi Arabia of backing the government.

Saudi Arabia launched an assault on the rebels earlier this month after they staged a cross-border raid that killed two Saudi border guards.

Saudi Arabia said late on Thursday nine of its soldiers are missing in the fighting. The Yemeni rebels have posted on the Internet videos of several captured Saudi soldiers.

U.S.-allied Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, fears the growing instability in neighbouring Yemen could turn into a major security threat for the kingdom by allowing al Qaeda to relaunch operations there. (For a FACTBOX on SCENARIOS for Yemen double-click on [ID:nGEE5AM0Q2])) (Reporting by Mohammed al-Mokhashaf; additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; writing by Firouz Sedarat; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton) ((; +971 4 391 8301))

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