Yemeni Shiite rebels believed to be holding five Saudi soldiers captive have handed over one missing soldier to a ceasefire committee, Al Jazeera television reported today. Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, was drawn into a conflict with the rebels in November after the insurgents seized some Saudi territory, accusing Riyadh of letting Yemeni troops use Saudi land to launch attacks against them.
Saudi Arabia on Saturday gave the rebels, whose main foe is the Yemeni central government, 48 hours to hand over the soldiers. There was no immediate word on the fate of four other soldiers. Riyadh has said handing over the soldiers would help prove the rebels are serious about ending the fight with Saudi Arabia. The rebels have been fighting Sanaa since 2004 complaining of social, religious and economic discrimination.
Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq al-Awsat newspaper quoted an unidentified Yemeni security official yesterday as saying the handover of the soldiers, part of the ceasefire agreement, was expected to be completed in less than a week. Last month, Yemen's Shiite rebels offered Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, a truce and said they had left the kingdom's territory. Riyadh later declared victory over the rebels.
In addition to fighting the rebels, Yemen is battling southern separatists and al Qa'eda, which has made the country its regional base. The Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a US passenger plane in December had links to Yemen. Riyadh and Western powers fear impoverished Yemen may become a failed state and that al Qa'eda could exploit the chaos to use the country as a base for attacks in the region and beyond.