World News

Yemeni rebels agree truce with government

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemeni Shi’ite rebels said on Saturday they had accepted a ceasefire proposed by the government to end months of violent clashes that have killed hundreds in the north of the Arab country.

State media said a ceasefire agreement mediated by Qatar committed Yemen to reconstruction in rebel areas, required rebels to give up their heavy weapons and included a temporary exile for their leaders.

“In response to the (government) call ... and to prevent bloodshed, we declare a stop to violence and fighting and our commitment to the republican system and the constitution,” said rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi in a statement.

State television said on Saturday that, under the agreement, Houthi and other rebel leaders would have to move to the Qatari capital Doha for an unspecified period and refrain from political and media activities against the Yemeni government.

Yemen’s government has committed itself to a reconstruction program for the northern province of Saada, the television said, adding that a reconstruction fund would be set up by Qatar and other countries.

Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands have fled their homes in Saada in the latest bout of a conflict that has raged on and off since 2004.

Qatar said the agreement was mediated by its emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, in talks with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh last month.

“There will no doubt be obstacles in the implementation of the accords, but Qatar will persistently participate in all stages ... and we are encouraged by the Yemeni president’s strong desire to end this crisis,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told Al Jazeera television.

A Yemeni government official told Reuters that officials had also promised rebel leaders that they would be allowed to set up their own political party after peace returns.

The rebels say their mountainous region, like much of Yemen, is neglected. Western diplomats say they may want more autonomy.

The rebels oppose Yemen’s close alliance with the United States. Officials say the group wants to install clerical rule.

In 2006, Yemen freed more than 600 rebels in an amnesty but in January fighting erupted again following rebel attacks.

Sunni Muslims are a majority of Yemen’s 19 million population, while most of the rest are from the Zaydi branch of Shi’ite Islam.

Yemen, the ancestral home of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, joined the U.S.-led war on terrorism after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

Houthi’s supporters are not linked to al Qaeda, whose Yemeni supporters attacked the U.S. destroyer Cole in 2000 and a French oil tanker in 2001.