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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 February 2007, 16:28 GMT
Yemen Shia rebels 'lose 80 men'
File photograph of Hussein al-Houthi
The rebels are said to be followers of Shia cleric Hussein al-Houthi
At least 80 Shia rebels battling government forces in Yemen have been killed in recent days, officials say.

Fifteen members of the security forces are also said to have died in the fighting in northern Yemen.

Yemen's president ordered a crackdown against rebels two weeks ago, accusing them of trying to oust his government and impose Shia religious law.

The rebels say the government is corrupt, too close to the West, and discriminates against their community.

Clashes broke out in late January, but the latest fighting appears to be some of the most concentrated yet.

'Exaggeration'

The government says the rebel fighters are followers of a Shia cleric, Hussein al-Houthi, and are drawn from the country's Zaidi Shia minority.

Yemen map

Houthi was killed in 2004, and the rebels are currently led by his brother Abdel Malik al-Houthi. "We have killed at least 80 people who are fighting with al-Houthi," a senior government official told the Reuters news agency.

But an unnamed spokesman for the rebels told Reuters that the true figures were much lower.

"They are exaggerating, I cannot count all the corpses, but they are a lower number," he said.

"Houthi is in good health and taking care of his men."

Dozens of government soldiers have also died since the violence began, with officials conceding that at least 40 have been killed in the past two weeks.

Yemen has endured a sporadic three-year insurgency that has claimed hundreds of lives.

The rebels belong to a banned organisation called the Youthful Believers, representing a complex mix of political and sectarian grievances in the Zaidi Shia heartland between the capital, Sanaa, and the border with Saudi Arabia.




SEE ALSO
Yemen fears return of insurgency
05 Feb 07 |  Middle East
Yemen frees 600 Shia insurgents
04 Mar 06 |  Middle East
Shia rebels go on trial in Yemen
15 Aug 05 |  Middle East
Country profile: Yemen
13 Nov 06 |  Country profiles

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