Page last updated at 17:34 GMT, Saturday, 30 January 2010

Yemen Shia rebels make ceasefire offer

Yemeni army vehicle in Saada province (file image)
Yemen's government wants all roads held by the rebels reopened

Shia rebels in northern Yemen have said they will accept government conditions for a ceasefire - once an army offensive against them has stopped.

Rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi said he was willing to accept the conditions to avoid civilian casualties and called on the Yemeni government to respond.

Several previous ceasefires have broken down, some soon after being agreed.

The UN refugee agency says 250,000 Yemenis have been displaced by the fighting over the past five years.

"In order to avoid... the annihilation of civilians we reiterate our acceptance of the five points [for a ceasefire]," Mr Houthi said in an audio message posted on the internet.

Map of Yemen

The government's conditions include a rebel withdrawal, the reopening of roads in the north and the release of all military and civilian prisoners.

The rebels must also return captured equipment and not interfere in local authority affairs.

Houthi rebels from the minority Shia Zaidi sect based in the Saada district of north-west Yemen have been battling the government since 2004.

They have also been involved in a cross-border conflict with Saudi Arabia.

Last Wednesday, Saudi deputy defence minister Prince Khalid bin Sultan said the rebels had been driven from Saudi land.

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