Ongoing clashes between the Yemeni army and followers of a Shiite rebel leader in the north of the country have killed more than 100 people in the past five days, military officials said Monday.
About 90 of the dead were in the Yemeni army, including six killed on Monday, an army official said.
Government forces have fired artillery bombardments over the areas where followers of Abdel-Malek al-Hawthi are believed to be hiding out in Saada, about 112 miles north of the capital San'a, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Close to 200 army and police officers have been killed in clashes in recent weeks.
There are no official statistics on rebels casualties, but tribal officials have estimated that more than 100 have been killed since the clashes broke out in late January.
Last week, members of the Yemen Supreme Defense Council voiced concerns, saying the Shiite rebels were receiving funds and assistance from outside countries, according to one of the council's members.
The member, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, did not name the countries. But state-owned newspapers have reported that the government suspects Iran and Libya are backing the rebellion.
‘Ignorant forces of darkness’
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh accused the rebels on Monday of being "ignorant forces of darkness who adopted deviant terrorist and racist ideas." They "don't believe in democracy or freedom. They are agents who have sold themselves to harm the nation and its interests," he said, according to the official news agency.
Al-Hawthi denied in an interview with al-Nada, a local independent paper, that his group had Iranian or Libyan links. He accused the government of resorting to violence to end the conflict instead of taking peaceful paths.
The rebels are part of a Shiite Muslim group known as "The Young Faithful Believers" that accuses the government of being corrupt and too close to the West.
Yemen, the ancestral land of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, has largely allied itself with the United States in the war on terror.
The government has been fighting the rebels since June 2004 when rebel Shiite cleric Hussein Badr Eddin al-Hawthi -- the brother of the current leader -- led his forces in an uprising.
The cleric was killed in clashes with government troops in September 2004. More than 700 officers and police have been killed since then until beginning of the latest round of fighting, which started late last month.
The government had accused Abdel-Malek al-Hawthi of sedition, forming an illegal armed group and inciting anti-American sentiment. His loyalists say authorities have tried to silence the cleric's criticism of corruption.