Page last updated at 17:41 GMT, Wednesday, 2 September 2009 18:41 UK

Rebel video 'shows Yemeni POWs'


The BBC's Bob Trevelyan analyses the video footage

Shia rebels in northern Yemen have released a video appearing to show dozens of captured Yemeni troops.

It is not clear when the film was made, but it seems to contradict government statements that its forces recently inflicted heavy losses on the rebels.

The reports have been hard to verify as the fighting has been taking place in a mountainous part of northern Yemen closed to journalists.

The rebels also appear to have captured arms and ammunition.

The footage shows a rebel commander addressing a group of about 100 men in army uniform, some of whom still have their rifles.

The commander tells them that the rebels' grievance is not with them, but that they are brother Yemenis and will be treated with respect and dignity. The real enemy, he says, lies further afield.

"The sea is full of naval ships and more than 150,000 American and Italian soldiers," he says. "These are all Western troops and this is the real enemy."

A BBC analyst says, if genuine, the footage will be an embarrassment to the Yemeni government, which recently rejected a truce offer from the rebels and has said it is close to crushing them.

The government says the rebels, known as the Houthis, want to overthrow it and impose Shia religious law.

The Houthis say a corrupt Yemeni government, backed by the West and Saudi Arabia, is using security concerns as a pretext for persecuting their community and trying to suppress their version of Shia Islam, known as Zaydism.

Foreign involvement

Iran, which follows a different version of Shia Islam, has also become embroiled in the conflict, with Iranian media accusing Saudi Arabia of carrying out air attacks in support of the Yemeni government, and the Yemeni authorities accusing Iran of backing the rebels.

Direct Saudi involvement has been impossible to verify, but Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Wednesday met Saudi Defence Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, for talks about unspecified co-operation between the two countries.

Meanwhile, UN humanitarian officials have launched a $23.5m appeal to help the displaced people of northern Yemen.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator John Holmes said that the fighting there had driven tens of thousands of people from their homes.

He said that people were seeking refuge in "schools and abandoned buildings" while others may not even have shelter.

He also warned that without urgent help, the people scattered across the desert region may try to leave the country.

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