TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran has expressed concern over deadly clashes between a Shiite sect and government forces in Yemen, saying some elements were seeking to create sectarian strife there similar to Iraq, the ISNA news agency reported Thursday.
Ali Akbar Velayati, the influential advisor to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made the comments after talks in Tehran late on Wednesday with visiting Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Abdullah Al-Kourbi.
"We are worried by the situation in Yemen as the elements which are trying to create division between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq are trying to do the same in Yemen," he said.
Some 42 soldiers have been killed and 81 wounded in rebel attacks since late January blamed on supporters of Abdul Malak al-Huthi from the Zaidi minority.
The Zaidis are an offshoot of Shiite Islam dominant in northwestern Yemen, but form a minority in the mainly Sunni country.
"Ayatollah Khamenei has always insisted on the unity between Sunnis and Shiites," added Velayati.
"The clashes in Yemen are not in the interest of Yemen and the Islamic world and we hope that the Yemeni government can use peaceful means to re-establish peace and prevent the clashes," he added.
Overwhelmingly Shiite Iran has been accused by the United States of seeking to stir trouble in countries in the region with mixed Sunni and Shiite populations such as Lebanon and Iraq.
Iran has vehemently denied the charges, instead accusing its Western enemies of plotting to create divisions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims to increase their influence in the Middle East.
The Zaidis began fighting government forces in 2004, since when hundreds have been killed.
The rebels reject as illegitimate the current authorities who seized power in a 1962 coup known as the September 26 revolution, overthrowing a Zaidi imamate.