Yemen

Yemen Shi'ite rebels ready for talks with Saudi

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* Yemeni rebels say prepared to hold talks with Saudi Arabia

* Rebel leader tape issued after reports he may be dead

* Yemen names al Qaeda figure among those killed in raid

(Adds Yemen names al Qaeda dead militants, paras 2, 12-15)

SANAA, Dec 31 (Reuters) - Yemen's Shi'ite rebels said on Thursday they were ready for talks to end fighting with neighbouring Saudi Arabia, and issued a taped message from their leader to disprove reports he had been killed.

Meanwhile, Yemen said an al Qaeda figure who had made a rare public appearance at a rally to threaten the United States was among militants killed in a Dec. 24 air raid on the group.

Yemen has come under the spotlight after the regional wing of al Qaeda there said it was behind the failed Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. passenger plane. The United States and Saudi Arabia fear al Qaeda will exploit instability in Yemen, which faces a northern Shi'ite revolt and separatist sentiment in the south, to turn it into a launchpad for attacks.

"If Saudi aggression stops and there is a real will towards security and stability ... then we do not attack anyone that does not attack us," the rebels said on their website.

"We reiterate ... our support for dialogue and a language of understanding to resolve all differences," said the rebels, who are also fighting government troops in Yemen's mountainous north.

Saudi Arabia began launching strikes on the rebels after they seized a pocket of Saudi territory last month.

The rebels posted on the Internet an audio recording from their leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, in an effort to deny Yemeni government and media reports that he had been killed in the war.

"Our fighters have the necessary experience (of war) ... but we are concerned about our innocent civilians ... our women and children," Houthi said in the tape, urging global condemnation of what he said were killings of many civilians in the war.

The authenticity of the tape could not be verified, but the speaker's voice sounded like that in earlier Houthi recordings.

The recording appeared to be new as Houthi referred to government and Saudi air attacks he said had been carried out against civilian targets as recently as Dec. 27.

But Yemen's national security chief Ali Mohammad al-Ansi cast doubt on the message, insisting that "indications suggest (Houthi) is dead", a defence ministry website said.

AL QAEDA FIGURE IDENTIFIED AMONG DEAD

Mohammed Saleh al-Omair, seen on Al Jazeera television threatening attacks on the United States at an opposition rally this month, was among five of the dead militants identified after the Dec. 24 air raids, the website said. [ID:nLDE5BK204]

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has said the failed Christmas Day plane attack over Detroit, for which a Nigerian man has been charged, was meant to avenge raids on Dec. 17 on the group, which it blamed on the United States. [ID:nLDE5BR0JS]

A suspected al Qaeda militant was arrested in Arhab, an area near the capital Sanaa which was also hit in the Dec. 17 raids, the website added.

In southern Yemen, hundreds of supporters of the opposition Southern Movement marched on Thursday to demand the release of those arrested in earlier protests, residents and websites said.

Both the Shi'ite rebels and the southern separatists complain of social and economic discrimination, which the government denies. (Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari and Mohamed Sudan, additional reporting by Mohammed Mokhashaf in Aden; writing by Firouz Sedarat; editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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