The Yemeni government last night declared a temporary truce in its war with the Houthi rebels for the duration of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, according to the German Press Agency. Whether it will take hold remains to be seen. A similar unilateral ceasefire declared a couple of weeks ago lasted only a few hours – possibly because some of the rebels had not heard about it.
The announcement followed international calls for an investigation into a series of attacks by warplanes whichreportedly killed more than 80 civilians – mostly women and children – on Wednesday.
Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said:
"The [Yemeni] government should launch a full-fledged investigation into what went wrong and take immediate measures to try to ensure we do not see a further avoidable tragedy of this nature. This is a deeply disturbing development in a conflict that was already troubling in terms of its impact on civilians."
The government has said it will investigate, but the specially formed "fact-finding commission" is not independent – it is under the control of the army – and there are already signs as to which way the investigation is heading. The defence ministry is
blaming the rebels for "preventing citizens from leaving to the safe areas" and says, "The terrorists are using innocent citizens as human shields."
Meanwhile, Jane Novak (of the Armies of Liberation blog)
reports that Mohammed al Maqaleh, the journalist who broke the story (in Arabic) of the attack on civilians, has been abducted, presumably by some branch of the security services:
Mr al-Maqaleh is the editor for the opposition Socialist Party’s website, al-Eshteraki ... According to witness reports, five gun wielding masked men in a minibus intercepted Mr al-Maqaleh’s car on Taiz street in Sana’a Thursday evening. They dragged a struggling Mr al-Maqaleh into their vehicle and sped away ...
His cell phone is off and his car found abandoned with the tyres slashed. Yemeni authorities refused to take a report from his family, who were turned away at both the police station and the Criminal Investigations Division.
The UNHCR's latest report on the humanitarian situation in the conflict area can be found here.
Posted by Brian Whitaker, 19 September 2009.
Update, 20 July 2009: Reports say fighting has continued, despite the ceasefire call.