Yemen said on Friday it has recalled its ambassadors from both Libya and Iran for consultations over the two countries’ purported backing of Shi’ite rebels fighting against government forces.
Yemen ”has recalled its ambassadors in Iran and Libya to consult with them in light of information available to the government about external meddling in Yemeni internal affairs in relations to the Huthis’ rebellion” in the north-western province of Saada, Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Kurbi told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
He did not elaborate, but in an interview with AFP last month, Prime Minister Ali Mohammad Mujawar accused Libya, and ”possibly” Iran, of backing the insurgents.
A Yemeni official told AFP earlier Friday that Yemen had recalled its ambassador from Libya for consultations in protest at Tripoli’s backing for the deadly uprising among the Zaidi Shi’ite minority.
He did not mention overwhelmingly Shi’ite Iran.
But speaking to AFP in Tripoli, Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel Rahman Shalgham denied any rupture, and accused a third party of trying to poison relations.
”We have recalled our ambassador, Hussein Ali Hassan, for consultations in the light of information from Saada province about Libyan support to the followers of Abdel Malak al-Huthi,” the Yemeni official said.
In recent months, heavy fighting has flared up again between the Zaidi rebels and government troops in Saada province in the northern mountains on the Saudi border.
Hundreds of people have been killed in the three-year-old uprising led by the Huthi family, which is seeking the restoration of the Zaidi imamate which ruled in Sanaa until a 1962 coup by republican forces.
”They did receive help from outside, chiefly from Libya. We must be clear … Possibly from Iran” too, the Yemeni prime minister said when asked if the insurgents were receiving external support.
Huthi’s brother Yahia Badreddin, a member of the Yemeni Parliament despite moves to lift his parliamentary immunity, was briefly based in the Libyan capital earlier this year, but has since reportedly moved to Germany.
Huthi himself has said he was only in Tripoli as part of efforts by Libyan leader Moammar Gadaffi to broker an end to the violence.
Libya’s Shalgham insisted on Friday that the mediation effort had been undertaken at the request of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and said it was now over.
He denied there was a break in relations.
”The Yemeni ambassador has not left Libya,” said Shalgham, who visited the Yemeni capital on March 16 in a bid to smooth relations.
He said the spat was the result of a ”third party wanting to poison relations,” in an apparent allusion to Yemen’s powerful neighbour, Saudi Arabia, with which Libya has had strained ties.
While Yahia Badreddin al-Huthi was still in Libya, Yemen submitted a formal request for his extradition, official media reported on February 16.
In an interview from Germany with al-Jazeera television, broadcast on April 29, Huthi strongly denied receiving external backing.
”Had we had an external support, our fighters would have reached by now the gates of Sanaa,” he said.
An offshoot of Shiite Islam, the Zaidis are a minority in mainly Sunni Yemen but form the majority in the north. President Saleh is himself a Zaidi.
The ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, Yemen is also faced by al-Qaeda-inspired militancy among its Sunni majority.
But the Sunni militants are sworn enemies of the Zaidi rebels, whom they regard as heretics.
The fighting in the northern mountains has begun to affect aid efforts in Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries.
The International Committee of the Red Cross announced on May 3 that two Yemeni volunteers were wounded when one of its convoys got caught up in the crossfire. – Sapa-AFP