Page last updated at 13:26 GMT, Wednesday, 7 April 2010 14:26 UK

Yemenis urged to probe alleged breaches of laws of war

Image supplied to Amnesty International, which it says shows a school apparently damaged during fighting
Amnesty International says one of the images it has obtained shows a damaged school

Yemen's government and Houthi rebels must investigate alleged breaches of international law during fighting last year, human rights groups say.

Witness accounts they have gathered accuse the government of indiscriminate bombing, and the rebels of summary killings and putting civilians at risk.

Amnesty International has released pictures it says are civilian buildings apparently destroyed in the conflict.

The fighting was brought to an end by a truce between the sides in February.

International humanitarian law forbids the targeting of civilian objects, as well as indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilians, during conflicts.

If such attacks are carried out deliberately, they may be considered war crimes.

'Invisible conflict'

The pictures released by Amnesty show buildings which it says are schools, mosques and markets which have been destroyed.

A picture released by Amnesty International showing a market in Saada
The grafitti reads 'what did markets do wrong?'

The group say they were given the images by a number of independent individuals, who were not connected to either rebels or the government.

They say the claims are backed up by accounts from civilians they interviewed.

"This is a largely invisible conflict that has been waged behind closed doors," Philip Luther of Amnesty International said.

"These images reveal the true scale and ferocity of the bombing and the impact it had on the civilians caught up in it."

The northern region of Saada was the scene of heavy fighting as Yemeni forces pushed the rebels back before agreeing to a peace deal.

Saudi Arabia was drawn into the conflict in November 2009 when the Houthis attacked over the border and overran a small part of Saudi territory which they held for at least two months.

But Riyadh denied rebel claims that its jets flew bombing sorties across the border.

Witnesses told Amnesty International the bombing increased in scale after Saudi Arabia became involved.

In a report released on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said its research government forces carried out indiscriminate aerial bombing and shelling that has resulted in civilian casualties.

Witnesses and reports have accused the Houthi rebels of deploying forces in densely populated civilian areas, summary executions and looting of private property, HRW said.

There were also concerns over the reported use of child soldiers on both sides, the group said.

Neither the government or the rebels have responded to the HRW report and the photographs released by Amnesty International, although the government has said in the past it intended to investigate some of the reported bombings.

No trust

An estimated 200,000 people have been displaced by the conflict, which has flared on and off since 2004.

The area around the rebel stronghold of Saada has been all but inaccessible to international journalists or human rights groups since fighting started again in August last year.

The rebels sued for peace in January but the government pressed on with a ground campaign to drive the Houthis back, saying at the time that the peace offerings from Houthi leaders could not be trusted.

Several peace deals have collapsed in the past, the government said.

Yemen has been facing several threats to its stability.

The government is fighting secessionists in the south and the country is being used as a base for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The US and Britain have pledged support and aid for the Yemeni government.

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