by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East
International, 16 June, 2000
more than 65 years of sporadic conflict, Yemen and Saudi Arabia
have signed a border deal which promises to bring a new era of
improved relations between the two countries.
A statement by the official Yemeni
news agency, Saba, issued as MEI went to press, described the deal
as a "final and permanent treaty for marine and land
No details were given, but it said
it the agreement incorporated the line adopted by the 1934 Ta’if
treaty, which defined the western end of the border, and also
covered the remaining (major) part of the 1,500-mile border which
has not previously been defined.
The agreement came on the first
full day of an official visit to the kingdom by President Ali
Abdullah Salih - visit which had been heralded as historic but
which was overshadowed and cut short by the death of President
Assad in Syria. Salih and Crown Prince Abdullah then left
separately for Damascus to attend the funeral.
It became clear that a
breakthrough was near when Crown Prince Abdullah, after years of
frosty relations between the two neighbours, attended celebrations
in Sana’a to mark the tenth anniversary of Yemeni unification on
There had been speculation that a
deal would be signed during the prince’s visit but last-minute
hitches, thought to be connected with tribal boundaries in the
border area, prevented it.
One so-far-unexplained aspect of
the deal is that neither President Salih nor Prince Abdullah put
their name to the document. It was signed by the two foreign
ministers: Abd al-Qadr Bagammal for Yemen and Prince Saud
Al-Faisal for Saudi Arabia.
Details of the agreement were due
to be given at a press conference on June 14.
The border quarrel had become an
almost permanent feature of Saudi-Yemeni relations which have been
characterised by mutual suspicion and claims of interference in
each other’s internal affairs.
Whether the border was a root
cause of the friction or merely a symptom of it remains to be
seen. Yemen has previously attributed many of its internal
problems - ranging from kidnappings to the 1994 north-south war -
to machinations by the Saudis. Now, either those problems will
diminish or Yemen will place the blame elsewhere.