Aid Agencies Warn of Deepening Yemen Crisis

By: Ahmed El-Haj : AP Writer
By: Ahmed El-Haj : AP Writer

Yemen's Shiite rebels Tuesday called for an independent arbitration committee to help mediate a lasting cease-fire in their ongoing war with the government as aid agencies warned that the humanitarian crisis could worsen if immediate action is not taken.

International aid agency Oxfam called for an end to the fighting between government and rebels in north Yemen and for a safe passage
of aid to reach the 100,000 they estimate have been displaced in the past five weeks of fighting.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, meanwhile, said its provisions are diminishing as more people arrive in camps for the displaced every day.

The government has twice declared a cease-fire in the past month, only to have it shattered by both sides within hours.

Yemen's government is embroiled in a five-year conflict with Shiite rebels in the country's north. The rebels complain their needs are ignored by the government and that the state is increasingly allying with hard-line Sunni fundamentalists, some of whom consider Shiites as heretics.

Some 150,000 Yemenis have fled their homes since fighting began in 2004, cramming into camps, schools and barns as aid groups struggle to bring in supplies.

Rebel spokesman, Mohammed Abdel Salam, said the only way a cease-fire would work is if a group of independent politicians and community leaders would oversee it to ensure compliance from both sides.

The government, meanwhile, announced on Tuesday that 26 rebel fighters were killed after they tried to infiltrate government-controlled areas.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the U.S. embassy in San'a have also urged an end to the fighting.

Shiites are 30 percent of the population of 22 million. They are Zaydis, members of a Shiite sect that includes the president himself.

Fighting escalated dramatically in early August, when the rebels captured an army post on a strategic highway between the capital and the Saudi border. Fighting has come within 75 miles of the capital.

Yemen's attempts to deal with its multiple threats are made harder by its crippling poverty - unemployment is 35 percent, illiteracy 50 percent. The oil production that provides the government with 70 percent of its revenue is down about 40 percent as wells run dry.

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