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Yemen Announces Truce With Rebels, Looks Toward Al Qaeda Fight

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SAN'A, Yemen — Yemen's president on Thursday declared an end to military operations against northern rebels after reaching a cease-fire agreement that could bring the country's six-year conflict to a close.

After years of sporadic fighting with the militants, Yemen has come under international pressure to quickly end the war and free up resources to confront a separate threat from an al-Qaida offshoot that has set up operations there over the past year.

"We have decided to halt military operations in the northwestern region ... to stop bloodshed, bring peace to the region, the return of displaced people to their villages, reconstruction and achieve national reconciliation," President Ali Abdullah Saleh's office said in a statement.

The truce will take effect at midnight (2100 GMT) on Thursday, the statement said.

Several earlier cease-fires quickly disintegrated, mainly because the rebels said their demands were not addressed, and it was not clear whether the truce announced Thursday would hold. But the rebels and the government have come under international pressure to end the conflict this time, and both sides appear eager to do so.

Last week, the government presented the rebels with a detailed cease-fire agreement after the militants accepted the government's terms. According to Yemeni authorities, government and rebel representatives would sit on committees that would oversee the truce.

The president's office cautioned Thursday that the halt to military operations depends on the Shiite militants' commitment to observing the government's conditions. Yemen has demanded the militants to disarm, release captured soldiers and property, clear mountain hideouts, abide by the constitution and vow not to attack Saudi Arabia.

Neighboring Saudi Arabia was drawn into the conflict in November after rebels crossed the border and killed two Saudi border guards. Some 133 Saudi soldiers have died in the fighting.

The rebels announced a unilateral cease-fire with Saudi Arabia in late January. However, the Saudis responded cautiously to the rebel announcement, and demanded militants pullback from border positions and return five missing soldiers.

The rebels say their community of Shiite Muslims from the Zaydi sect suffer discrimination and neglect and that the government has allowed ultraconservative Sunni extremists too strong a voice in the country. Hard-line Sunnis consider Shiites heretics.

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