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Yemen Clashes Continue, Cease-Fire Offer Rejected

SANAA (Reuters) -- Yemeni troops have clashed with insurgents, killing 20, and the government said today it had rejected the latest cease-fire offer by northern rebels.

Rebel snipers also fought with Saudi soldiers, despite a Saudi declaration last week it had defeated the rebels.

Yemen has been fighting the rebels, who complain of marginalization, on and off since 2004, but the conflict intensified last summer and then again in November when it drew in neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter.

Yemeni soldiers clashed with rebels in the northern provinces of Malahidh and Saada, killing 20, including a leader responsible for training, state media reported today.

The government said it had rejected a new cease-fire offer.

Rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi said on January 30 he was prepared to accept government conditions for a truce, days after he made a cease-fire offer to Saudi Arabia and said they had withdrawn from Saudi territory.

"The Houthi offer is rejected as it does not vow to end attacks on Saudi Arabia and because it sets as a condition an end to military operations first [by the government]," a government official told Reuters.

The rebels said they would accept five conditions set by Sanaa for a cease-fire that include the removal of rebel checkpoints, withdrawal of forces, and clarification of the fate of kidnapped foreigners.

The rebels also must return captured military and civilian equipment and not enter local politics.

Sixth Condition

But the Houthis made no mention of a sixth condition, the ending of attacks on Saudi Arabia, that Sanaa added after Riyadh launched its military assault against the rebels in November.

"This is a key demand we cannot make concessions on," Tarek Ahmad al-Shami, a spokesman for Yemen's ruling party, told Reuters.

A Saudi military source said rebel snipers still were crossing the border into Saudi territory and were exchanging fire with Saudi troops on a daily basis, nearly a week after the rebels said they would withdraw from Saudi land.

Saudi Arabia declared a full victory over the rebels on January 27, but said at the time that rebel snipers were still active.

The "September 26" Defense Ministry online newspaper said the rebels, known as the Houthis after the name of their leader, had opened fire on a refugee camp, killing a child and wounding two others. There was no response from the rebels to the claim.

Growing instability in Yemen, which is cracking down on Al-Qaeda and dealing with southern secessionists, worries Western powers, who fear it could become a failed state.

Britain hosted talks in London last week where countries including the United States discussed ways to stabilize the Arab world's poorest country, which grabbed international attention after the Yemen-based regional command of Al-Qaeda claimed a bomb attempt on a U.S.-bound plane on December 25.