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Yemeni government and rival forces declare truce

Truce signed by Yemeni president and rivals does not include ending crackdown on protesters

AFP , Tuesday 25 Oct 2011
Medics rush a man injured in a crossfire during clashes between opposition fighters and government forces in the southern Yemeni city of Taez, Tuesday, (Photo: Reuters).
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Yemen's government and dissident general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, whose forces have been engaged in bloody battles for weeks, reached a ceasefire agreement on Tuesday, an official statement said, as witnesses reported more fighting in the country.

Tribal forces, led by the powerful chief Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, who has thrown his support behind the pro-democracy movement that has rocked Yemen, also agreed to the ceasefire, sources in his office told AFP.

Though an official government statement published on the state news agency website said the truce went into immediate effect, residents and an AFP correspondent in the capital's Hasaba district where Sadeq resides said the sounds of gunfire and explosions were heard.

Tuesday's cease-fire announcement came after a bloody day in the capital and Yemen's second largest city Taez, with at least 10 people killed and dozens of others wounded in clashes, shelling and a government crackdown on protesters, medical officials said.

The official online statement announcing the truce said a committee assigned to negotiate with the opposition forces "declared a cease-fire in the capital Sanaa that will go into effect at 3:00pm (12 GMT) today (Tuesday) with the goal of... bringing calm... and ensuring the safety of the capital, its people and their properties."

The statement added that the government and rival forces would remove checkpoints and barricades set up throughout the capital in recent weeks as clashes and battles intensified between the feuding parties.

The statement did not promise to end the harsh government crackdown on unarmed protesters in Sanaa or any other Yemeni city that has left hundreds dead and thousands wounded since January.

This is the third cease-fire declared since May between the government and tribal chief Sadeq, whose well-armed tribesman have been engaged in fierce battles with Saleh's troops in the capital's Hasaba district in recent days.

The two previous cease-fires were breached soon after the declaration of an agreement.

However it is the first agreement reached between Saleh and general Mohsen, who defected in March in support of the tens of thousands of protesters that since January have been calling for the resignation of the Yemeni president.

Mohsen's First Armoured Brigade troops have been battling Saleh loyalists in the capital in recent weeks, raising tensions and stoking fears in the international community that Yemen was headed towards civil war.

Tuesday's announcement came just hours after Saleh's troops opened fire on thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators in the capital killing two people and wounding at least 40 others.

The cease-fire declaration does not apply to other Yemeni cities, including the flashpoint city of Taez, where at least seven civilians were killed on Tuesday, including a seven-year-old child, during what residents said was random shelling by government forces of city neighbourhoods.

Medics also said that a Yemeni policeman was killed in the violence.

Saleh loyalists are fighting tribesman and other militias in Taez that have joined the call for Saleh's ouster.

Saleh has for months refused to step down after 33-years in power, despite repeated regional and international calls for him to do so.

The escalating violence in the country provoked a UN resolution last week that called for Saleh to immediately sign a Gulf-brokered power transition plan in return for immunity from prosecution.

On Monday, Saleh welcomed the UN resolution but did not specify when or if he would sign the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative.

Officials told AFP on Tuesday that Saleh is negotiating to modify the initiative to ensure he remain president until early elections are called. He is also lobbying to remove a clause in the agreement that calls for the restructuring of Yemen's security forces in the event of his resignation.

The opposition and the tens of thousands of activists that have been camped out in the capital's Change Square are not likely to accept Saleh's proposed modifications, particularly since Saleh's sons and closest relatives command Yemen's military forces.

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