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Yemen Shi'ite Rebels Breach Truce

SANAA (Reuters) -- Shi'ite rebels shot at an Interior Ministry official and killed a soldier in northern Yemen today, violating a truce announced hours earlier to end a conflict that has raged since 2004 and sucked in Saudi Arabia.

Yemen's government and rebel leader AbdulMalik al-Houthi agreed late on February 11 to a truce that was set to begin at midnight.

Interior Minister Undersecretary Muhammad al-Qawsi, whose car was shot at by rebels earlier today, told Reuters minor violations had occurred because not all rebel fighters were aware of the cease-fire, but that the agreement still held.

He said rebels had killed one soldier and wounded seven outside the northern city of Saada.

"There are some small violations here and there and there have also been some violations by rebels outside the city of Saada," Qawsi said.

The Yemeni government, which is also battling a resurgent threat from Al-Qaeda and a separatist movement in the south, had been exchanging proposals with the rebels for several days to agree a cease-fire. Both Houthi and the government issued statements late on February 11 calling for an end to the fighting that the United Nations says has displaced 250,000 people.

Yemeni forces have been battling Houthi's supporters for more than five years and previous cease-fires have not lasted.

Qatar, a Gulf Arab natural-gas producer and regional powerbroker, mediated a cease-fire between the government and rebels in 2007 and a peace deal in 2008.

The rebels, from the Zaydi sect of Shi'ite Islam, have long complained of social, religious, and economic discrimination.

Yemen's many challenges have raised fears in the West and Saudi Arabia that it may become a failed state, allowing Al-Qaeda to use it as a base for attacks in the region and beyond.

In December it emerged that a Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner had links to Yemen, which borders the world's No. 1 oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, and sits at the entrance to the Red Sea, a major international shipping channel.

Saudi Arabia was drawn into the conflict in November when the rebels seized some Saudi territory, complaining that Riyadh was letting Yemeni troops use its land for attacks against them.

Riyadh declared victory over the rebels last month, two days after they themselves offered a truce and said they had quit Saudi territory. Rebels say Saudi air strikes have continued.