September 5, 2009 / 12:49 AM / 10 years ago

Yemen blames northern rebels for breaking truce

* Yemen accuses rebels of breaking ceasefire

* Conflict area borders Saudi Arabia

SANAA, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Yemen accused northern rebels on Saturday of reigniting fighting in Saada province by breaking a truce designed to allow access for humanitarian aid.

The Supreme Security Committee said in a statement the fighting occurred in the Malahidh area in the mountainous region bordering Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil producer.

Last month, a new wave of fighting erupted between rebel Shi’ite Muslims of the Zaydi sect and government forces trying to impose central authority. The conflict first began in 2004.

On Friday, the government said it would suspend operations if the rebels did the same but there was no word from the militants. Both sides have previously rejected ceasefire offers by the other party.

U.N. aid agencies say more than 100,000 people, many of them children, have fled their homes during the surge in fighting. They launched an appeal in Geneva this week for $23.5 million to help Yemen. Thousands are thought to be staying in tented camps.

Information about the conflict has been hard to verify because northern provinces have been closed to media.

Yemen, one of the poorest Arab countries, has been battling the rebellion in the north as well as a wave of al Qaeda attacks and rising secessionist sentiment in the south.

The northern rebels have accused the government of using Saudi weaponry, issuing video footage of mortars bearing Saudi emblems.

Riyadh is worried instability in Yemen could allow militants to relaunch operations in Saudi Arabia.

The rebels accuse Sunni Saudi Arabia, whose Wahhabi Islam religion regards Shi’ites as virtual heretics, of backing the government.

Yemen, which has accused media in Shi’ite power Iran of taking the rebels’ side, says the militants want to restore a Shi’ite state overthrown in the 1960s.

The rebels, demanding more autonomy, say they oppose the spread of Saudi-influenced Sunni fundamentalism and the ruling party of veteran Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who visited Saudi Crown Prince Sultan in Morocco this week.

(Reporting by Mohamed Ghobari; writing by Andrew Hammond)

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