President says Yemen is ready for a long war

Saleh says the country's economy will only recover after al Houthi insurgents and al Qa'eda terrorists are defeated.

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh gestures to soldiers after attending a military manoeuvre in the northern province of Marib February 3, 2009. Saleh, 67, has long dominated Yemen's post-unity democratic structures via his northern tribal power base, patronage networks and support in the armed forces and security services. Picture taken February 3, 2009. To match analysis YEMEN/SALEH   REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah (YEMEN POLITICS MILITARY)
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SANA'A // Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's president, said yesterday his government is ready to battle the al Houthi rebels in the north part of the country for years if need be. "Our blood is being shed every day in Harf Sufyan and Sa'ada. We will not draw back even if the battle continues for five or six years, we will not backtrack or stop," Mr Saleh said during a celebration to mark the 47th anniversary of the 1962 revolution that toppled the Zaidi Shiite imamate and established the republic. "If they abide by reason, we don't want the war, but if they continue their defiance we will continue the war," said Mr Saleh to an applauding crowd. He said the war against rebels, who have been fighting an intermittent battle against the government troops for more than five years in the northern province of Sa'ada, is not easy but a fierce guerrilla fight. "The Yemeni people are facing three challenges. They are al Houthis, al Qa'eda and terrorism, and the economy, which is associated with the first two challenges," he said, on a day when 24 rebels and nine soldiers were killed in clashes. "If the war in Sa'ada and terrorism of al Qa'eda are finished, the economy will improve and vice versa," Mr Saleh said. In his address he called on "all political forces and citizens without exception to line up and confront the Sa'ada revolt and al Qa'eda". "Those who will be late in supporting the army, either political parties or citizen, will feel sorry and will be the ones to lose in the future," Mr Saleh said. Commenting on Mr Saleh's speech, the rebels said they are ready to fight for generations. "We are ready to face the aggression through generations ? we do not care about his [Saleh] warning speech ? which demonstrates they want the war and their announced truce offers do not match with the reality on the ground ? we already called for an independent committee to oversee the ceasefire," Mohammed Abdulsalam, a spokesman for the rebels, told Aljazeera TV. According to local sources, 24 rebels and nine soldiers, including an officer, were killed in fierce fighting between the army and the rebels yesterday in different parts of Sa'ada and Harf Sufyan. "The air force launched more than nine raids in different parts of Sa'ada and we have no information about the casualties," the source said on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from both the government and the rebels. Mr Saleh said that some forces, without naming them, wish the defeat of his regime, but said that the country will not fall into the lawlessness of Somalia or Iraq. The government announced a ceasefire on September 1, but it only lasted a few hours. The government's central conditions for ending the latest wave of fighting, which began August 11, include a rebel withdrawal from all districts and the removal of checkpoints. The conditions also require the al Houthis to return captured military and civilian equipment and refrain from intervening in the state's local affairs. The situation of those displaced by the conflict is deteriorating dramatically, aid agencies said last week. The United Nations has already called for US$23.5 million (Dh86m) to feed and shelter a mounting number of poverty-wracked villagers displaced by the violence. The UN estimates that intensified combat, which began around Sa'ada city in July, has forced 55,000 highland villagers from their homes, adding to the 95,000 displaced from previous bouts of fighting in the five-year-old conflict. Thousands have been killed and displaced since the insurgency began in 2004. Mr Saleh said his government is committed to supporting the displaced people in the war-ridden areas. "We are receiving a number of the displaced people in Haradh, Amran and in the city of Sa'ada ? I call on the aid agencies, which are shedding crocodile tears about our citizens, to provide support without a media fuss." he said. The UK-based international aid agency Oxfam warned last Tuesday of a humanitarian crisis as a result of the escalation of the war. "We are deeply concerned about those we can't reach. If the fighting intensifies or spreads or even simply continues, we could be looking at another humanitarian catastrophe of terrifying proportions unfolding as the world watches from the sidelines," an Oxfam statement said. Mr Saleh said his government will address the consequences of the war and that the $50m (Dh184m) allocated by his government after the last round of fighting in 2008 will be doubled after the current conflict ends.