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Sun 11 Oct 2009 01:26 AM

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Yemen rebel leader 'ready for talks'

Sanaa had been urged last month to halt Operation Scorched Earth, launched against rebels Aug 11.

Yemen rebel leader 'ready for talks'
YEMEN PRESIDENT: Ali Abdullah Saleh. (Getty Images)

Malek al-Huthi, leader of Zaidi Shiite rebels who have battled government troops in northern Yemen for the past two months, said on Saturday he is ready for a "dialogue" proposed by opposition leaders."We are ready for dialogue, to respond positively to all national initiatives and to stand alongside all honourable people wanting to save the country from corruption and injustice," Huthi said in a statement.

Last month an opposition alliance urged Sanaa to halt Operation Scorched Earth, launched against the rebels on August 11, and to promote development in Yemen's south in order to preserve the unity of the impoverished country.

Huthi did not specifically mention the possibility of dialogue with the government, which accuses the rebels of being supported by Iran, a charge the Zaidis deny.

But rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdessalam told AFP: "We are ready for dialogue with all political parties in Yemen including the government." His group would accept "Yemeni or Arab" mediation aimed at a ceasefire.

"We have no objection to neutral mediation," Abdessalem said, while stressing that it is up to the "government to decide to continue or to halt the war."

"We will respond to all aggression with the resources we have available," he said.

An official who asked not to be named said the rebels should meet the six conditions the state has set for a ceasefire, including giving up their weapons, reopening roads and re-establishing government rule in the conflict zones.

"We are pleased the rebels are opening up to dialogue but they must fully comply with the six points set by the government at the start of the war," he told AFP.

Mohammad al-Sabri, a member of the opposition alliance, said a ceasefire must precede the start of talks. "We cannot start dialogue while the war is continuing."

The government twice announced a ceasefire in September but each lull in fighting lasted only a few hours.

On Friday, UN humanitarian officials voiced alarm over the "dire" condition of civilians displaced by the fighting in the mountainous north and appealed for money to pay for aid.

The United Nations says some 150,000 people have been displaced in northern Yemen in the past five years, including 55,000 since fighting resumed in August.

On Saturday, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes held talks in Sanaa with Yemeni leaders as part of a three-day visit to the country to draw attention to the crisis.

At a news conference on Sunday he will speak about the results of his visit, which included a trip to one of five camps housing thousands of the people who have fled their homes since the latest flare up in the north Yemen violence.

"Agencies are working hard to provide assistance where they can," he said, lamenting that the UN had only received 3.8 million dollars (2.6 million euros) since September 2 in response to a call for emergency funds of 23.5 million dollars to help Yemen's displaced.