Saudi Arabian naval blockade on the Yemeni coast is aiming to halt Eritrean weapon smuggling from reaching rebels.

Saudi Arabia is trying to stop weapons reaching Al-Houthi rebels in Northern Yemen by imposing a naval blockade at both its eastern and western shores.

Naval forces were stationed November 12 near the northern Yemeni coast in support of the Yemeni government’s attempts to put down the insurrection.

The Saudi navy extended its blockade to prevent a second smuggling route across the Red Sea from Yemen’s western neighbor Eritrea.

Horn of Africa Project Director with the International Crisis Group, EJ Hogendoorn, told The Media Line, the blockade did not come as a surprise “given Eritrea and Yemen’s strained relationship.”

Hogendoorn said the weapons are smuggled from Yemen to Somalia by dow, a small open sailing boat, and this is probably the method used by Eritrea as well.

While the conflict between the insurgents and Yemeni government has been ongoing for over a decade, the latest round of fighting follows a government launched offensive earlier in August, codenamed Scorched Earth.

Numerous rebels fleeing north across the border prompted a massive Saudi air and ground offensive, in an attempt to drive the Al-Houthis back into Yemen.

The Al Houthis have accused the Yemeni government of being too closely allied with Washington.

The official Yemeni news agency SABA alleges Yemen has signed a military and security cooperation agreement with the U.S., a report denied by the American Embassy in Sanaa.   

“The talks were frank and productive and point toward continued U.S. assistance to the government of Yemen in its efforts to eliminate the threats to its population posed by al-Qaeda, piracy, and human trafficking,” read the statement. “At the conclusion of the talks and in accordance with standard protocol, the U.S. and Yemeni parties signed the minutes of the talks.  Meeting minutes do not constitute an agreement.”

Yemen and Eritrea clashed several times during the 1990s over control of the Hanish Islands located midway between the two countries, in the Red Sea north of the Bab Al Mandeb straight.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration handed the Islands over to Yemen in 1998.

By Adam Gonn on Tuesday, November 17, 2009

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