Yemen ceasefire talk ... again

Once again there is speculation about a ceasefire in the war with Yemen's Houthi rebels – though whether it will actually happen is anyone's guess.

The cause of the speculation is an audio recording by the rebels' leader, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, posted on the internet. In the recording, he says the Houthis accept the Yemeni government's "five points" laid down as conditions for a ceasefire, but only "after the aggression stops". 

In fact, there is nothing new in this: the Houthis have said similar things before. Is there any reason to believe it might turn out differently this time? Al-Jazeera's correspondent in Yemen thinks not.

"There have been no negotiations to follow up this initiative," he said. "People in the capital [Sanaa] are speculating there may be some secret talks going on, but there is no evidence this offer has been discussed or co-ordinated at all."

The most recent version of the government's ceasefire conditions contained six points, not five as mentioned by the rebel leader. Presumably he was ignoring the sixth point – referring to attacks on Saudi territory – because of a separate ceasefire with the Saudis which the rebels offered last Monday. The Saudis responded by claiming victory.

Fighting on the Saudi front appears to be continuing, however. On Thursday, the rebels said Saudi forces were carrying out further air and artillery attacks.

The Saudis are now insisting that the rebels must pull back 10km from the border on the Yemeni side and return six missing Saudi soldiers.

On Friday, the UN refugee agency said the number of people displaced since the Houthi conflict began in 2004 has reached 250,000. This is more than double the number who had been displaced when the latest round of fighting began last August – and it is currently increasing by about 7,000 people each week.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 31 January 2010.