Leaders row as
bombs hit Aden
by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in The Guardian, 22 June
ARTILLERY shells and mortar bombs rained down yesterday on the
Crater district of Aden, its problems compounded by a rift in the leadership of Yemen's
breakaway southern state.
The south appealed for urgent humanitarian help for the
city and urged the world community to end Yemen's seven-week civil war. A military
statement said its guerrillas killed 20 northern soldiers behind the northern front lines.
The leadership row centres on Abd al-Rahman al-Jifri, who
has taken charge of the besieged city since his appointment last month as vice-president
of the self-proclaimed state, Unlike most other leaders, he is not a member of the
Socialist Party, whose forces have been fighting the northern forces of President Ali
Abdullah Saleh since May 4. Although born in the southern province of Shabwa to a
prominent Yemeni family, Mr al-Jifri lived in Saudi Arabia for 20 years and has Saudi
This has brought complaints that he is taking instructions
from Riyadh rather than the socialist 'president', Ali Salem al-Baidh, who has decamped to
the relative safety of Mukalla, 400 miles east of Aden.
According to sources in southern Yemen, the issue is
causing serious friction between Mr al-Baidh and several members of his government,
notably the 'defence minister', Haytham Qasim Tahir.
A number of prominent socialists who disagree with the
party's tactics during the war have gone abroad to avoid becoming involved in arguments.
Yesterday, mystery surrounded the whereabouts of Jarallah
Omar, a leading socialist who was Yemen's minister of culture before the war.
Mr Omar, who opposed the declaration of a separate state,
is rumoured to be in Cairo, although his family say they have not heard from him for
several days. Dr Yasin Said Nu'man, a member of the politburo and a former prime minister
of South Yemen, has reportedly gone to Abu Dhabi for heart treatment.
The row in the south adds weight to claims by northern
leaders that the separatists, intentionally or not, are proxies of Saudi Arabia and other
Gulf states. They argue that the financial and diplomatic support that these countries
have given to the separatists has prolonged the war.
Abd al-Aziz Abd al-Ghani, a member of the presidential
council in Sana'a, said in Cairo yesterday: 'We would like the situation to remain between
the Yemenis themselves. If foreign intervention stops we will be more able to solve the
problems easily by dialogue.' Northern leaders believe that much of the hostility towards
Sana'a among the rich Arab states is a hangover from the Gulf war, when Yemen refused to
join the alliance against Iraq. But they argue that to divide Yemen as a way of seeking
revenge would not be in the long-term interests of these states.
There is a widely-held view that if the war results in
partition, north Yemen would probably swing towards fundamentalism and perhaps form part
of an Islamist axis with Iran and Sudan.
Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross
said that lethal forms of diarrhoea had started occurring in Aden because of insanitary
conditions. Arnold Luethold, who heads the organisation in the Arabian peninsula, said:
'Part of the civilian infrastructure is damaged and this has allowed sewage water to leak
into the streets. This, with extreme heat of about 40C (104F) and very high humidity,
makes the situation extremely critical.' - The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud
al-Faisal, discussed the war with his British counterpart and the Prime Minister
yesterday. On Monday the northern Yemeni foreign minister, Mohammed Basindwa, had met the
Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd.