Yemen civil war averted with tenuous ceasefire

Fighting that has left some 115 dead in past week temporarily halted; mediation between regime, tribesmen expected to resume.

Yemen tribesmen 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Yemen tribesmen 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
SANAA - An informal ceasefire between President Ali Abdullah Saleh's security forces and a tribal group brought a pause in fighting on Saturday after nearly a week of deadly clashes left Yemen near civil war.
Fighting this week has killed some 115 people, prompted thousands of residents to flee Sanaa and raised the specter of chaos that could benefit the Yemen-based branch of al-Qaida and threaten adjacent Saudi Arabia, the world's No. 1 oil exporter.
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Tribal sources and residents said there had been no renewal of fighting in Sanaa's northern district of Hasaba, site of heavy clashes this week for control of government buildings, and outside the capital.
"Mediation is going to resume later this afternoon," a government official told Reuters.
The latest fighting, pitting Saleh's security forces against members of the powerful Hashed tribe led by Sadeq al-Ahmar, was the bloodiest since pro-democracy unrest erupted in January and was sparked by a Saleh refusal to sign a power transfer deal.
A prestigious think tank, the International Crisis Group, said a broad ceasefire was needed immediately and should be part of a plan that leads to a transition of power.
"To prevent further escalation and loss of life, the most urgent step is for both sides to immediately accept a ceasefire mediated by Yemen's statesmen and tribal leaders," it said in a "conflict risk alert" issued late on Friday.
Foreign states should be involved, it said, "but, given the deeply personal and tribal nature of the feud between the Salehs and al-Ahmars, it cannot be addressed effectively by international mediation or initiatives alone."
Global powers have little sway in Yemen, where tribal allegiances are the most powerful element in a volatile social fabric and the fighting already appears to be playing out along tribal lines.
On Friday, Yemeni tribesmen said they had captured a military compound from elite troops loyal to the president 100 km (60 miles) outside Sanaa, widening a conflict hitherto concentrated mainly in the capital near the home of Ahmar.
The fighting has overshadowed a largely peaceful protest movement that started months ago aimed at ending Saleh's 33-year-long autocratic rule and inspired by the movements that brought down the long-standing leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.
"Urban youth and civil society activists, who initiated the protest movement, stand to lose the most from this turn of events," the ICG report said.