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10RIYADH78 2010-01-13 15:08:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Riyadh
Cable title:  

DEFENSE MINISTER DECLARES SOUTHERN BORDER CLEARED

Tags:   PREL PGOV MOPS YM SA 
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1. (C) News of Houthi fighting has continued to take a back
seat to other matters in the Saudi media in recent days.
However, Prince Khalid bin Sultan's visit to the troops on
January 12 produced several front page articles in local
papers that repeated reassuring news that the Saudi military
has full control of the border area. While it appears that
military activity on the ground has largely fallen off, air
operations against Houthi targets in the border area have
continued, at what the Embassy believes is a reduced tempo.
Prince Khalid told Ambassador Smith on January 5 that we
would see "different" news coming about the Houthi fighting
in the weeks ahead, appearing to indicate that a cessation of
hostilities is in the works. End Summary.


DEPUTY DEFMIN VISITS THE TROOPS:


--------------------------





2. (U) On January 12, the Saudi Press Agency announced that
Prince Khalid bin Sultan, the Deputy Defense Minister,
visited Saudi forces stationed along the southern border.
The Prince reiterated earlier statements that the SAG would
not intervene in other countries' internal matters, but they
would not allow anyone to trespass aggressively onto their
soil.


THE BORDER IS "CLEANSED"


--------------------------





3. (C) Speaking to reporters, Prince Khalid said the village
of Al Jabri (reftel) had been "cleansed" and "the whole
district taken under control." Hundreds of rebels were
killed in the village, Khalid said, while only four Saudis
died. (Embassy note: Fighting has been ongoing in and
around the border village of Al-Jabri for nearly two weeks.
While we cannot confirm the number of casualties claimed by
Prince Khalid, we can confirm that it has been the focus of
sustained Saudi air and artillery operations. End note.) The
total number of reported Saudi military casualties since the
fighting began in November is 82 with 21 soldiers missing.


HOUTHIS READY TO NEGOTIATE...


--------------------------





4. (U) Mohammed Abdul Salam, spokesman for the Houthis,
discussed the terms of a ceasefire with the Yemen Observer on
January 2. Abdul Salam said that the rebels are ready to
abide by the terms set forth by the Yemeni Government,
including a complete ceasefire and refraining from attacks on
Saudi territory. "We are ready to comply with the conditions
set by the government," Abdul Salam told reporters, "if there
is a fair and comprehensive solution."


...BUT THE SAUDIS AREN'T INTERESTED


--------------------------





5. (U) Prince Khalid rejected the Houthis' call for
negotiations. "We'll not negotiate with infiltrators and
saboteurs," he said, "We talk only to the Yemeni government."
The Prince continued by explaining the terms the SAG might
accept, "Our condition is very clear: They should go back
beyond our borders and stop their grouping. Our forces are
deployed along over 480km of the border and, God willing,
none of them will be able to escape."


MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, AGAIN?


--------------------------





6. (U) Prince Khalid's January 12 announcement that major
military operations have come to a close echo a similar
statement he made on December 23 (reftel). Statements posted
on the pro-Houthi website, Al Minbar, paint a different
picture of the situation. Al Minbar features daily
announcements of air raids and artillery bombardments on
villages inside Yemeni territory, allegedly by Saudi forces.
The most recent, on January 11, claimed 10 air raids on a
variety of villages and 1100 rockets and shells that fell
around the Al Jabri and Jabl Dhukan area.



7. (U) The Houthis also refuted the Saudi claim of capturing

the village of Al Jabri, saying that Saudi control of the
village is "absolutely incorrect." In the same statement,
the Houthis reaffirmed their intention of ending aggression
as soon as the Saudis stop "using territory they (the SAG)
control as a base of attacks." Not to be outdone, the
Houthis ended their statement with a threat to continue
fighting, "against the aggression directed at civilians," and
vowed to "confront this direct aggression from anywhere."


COMMENT:


--------------------------





8. (C) It appears that the Saudi-Houthi fighting has moved
into a slow end-game phase. Prince Khalid reportedly visited
Sanaa on or about January 4th. During a meeting with
Ambassador Smith on January 5, Prince Khalid said that the
Houthis had failed to gain what they wanted most, which was
to draw the Saudis into direct negotiations. Negotiating
with the Houthis, Prince Khalid explained, "would put the
Houthis on the same level as the Yemeni government; we will
not do so...we will not talk to terrorists." Prince Khalid
also told the Ambassador that he would be seeing "different
news coming about the fighting in the next few weeks." These
statements lead the Embassy to conclude that the Saudis are
turning the fight back over to the Yemeni Army. The Saudis
are doing so since they believe that they have adequately
reinforced their border, sufficiently punished the Houthis,
and demonstrated power and resolve to the Saudi public (and
to the Iranians). End comment.
SMITH