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Yemen Overview

Yemenis have lived through a series of conflicts for the last half century. Today, the government “ challenged in the North by Shiite rebels (the Zaydi Houthi), in the South by impoverished Sunni separatists, throughout by al-Qaeda”.

Since 2004 the main conflict in Yemen has been between the  government and a separatist group called the Houthis, for its founder Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi. The Houthis fight in the name of the philosophy they call  “pure Shia.” This conflict has displaced about 250,000 people and has stocked tensions among along the border with Saudi Arabia. The Houthi crossed over the border and siezed control over a part of Saudi territory in November 2009, provoking a swift response from the Saudi military. Both sides suffered significant losses. After the battle the Saudi Arabian assistant defence minister claimed that Iran supported the Houthi with their weapons because “it is not possible that [the Houthis] obtained the weapons deployed against us themselves”. Yemeni officials have also claimed that the Houthi was trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Recently, the Houthi leadership announced that their acceptance of five out of the six terms for a truce laid out by the Yemeni government, which includes the removal of checkpoints, withdrawal of Huthi forces, updates on the condition of kidnapped foreigners, the return of captured equipment, and a pledge not to participate in local politics. In May of 2010 Houthi forces handed over 178 prisoners, including soldiers and civilians, into the custody of the Yemeni government.

The al-Qaeda terrorist network has maintained a growing presence in the country, including training facilities.
In January 2010, the UN Security Council sanctioned two leaders of the Yemeni arm of al-Qaeda and added them to the UN blacklist. In addition, Yemen stopped issuing travel visas to foreigners at the country’s airports in order to prevent terrorists from entering the country.

In addition, the United States has intervened in the ongoing conflict in Yemen, sending a 200-strong Special Forces training contingent already in Yemen. In January, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the United States signed a three year agreement with a number of Western and Gulf countries regarding support for Yemen, which included provisions concerning security and development issues.