Explosion in Aden
by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East International, 9 June 1995
ADEN, still recovering from bombardment during Yemen's "unity war" last year, was shaken yet again on May 27 by explosions from Jabal Hadid ("Iron Mountain") near the city centre, where tunnels cut into the rock have been used to store weapons since the days of British occupation. Shrapnel and rubble from the blasts, as well as some rockets, caused panic and damage to property but apparently few injuries.
The official explanation - that a fire started during cleaning - is entirely plausible, given the Yemeni military's often cavalier approach to safety, and so far no evidence has emerged to contradict it. Nevertheless, many Yemenis are as sceptical about this as they were earlier in the month about official reports that President Salih's 17-year-old nephew had accidentally killed himself while cleaning his pistol.
Speculation was scarcely discouraged by the president's speech to parliament, broadcast on Sana'a radio the day after the Aden blasts, when he accused some of those who had fought on the separatist side during the war of taking advantage of the amnesty "to carry out acts of looting, sabotage and other disturbances".
One effect of the Jabal Hadid incident has been to speed up plans for the removal of all military camps and weapon stores from the city and its surrounding province. Ostensibly this is to provide land for developing Aden's economic free zone and to create an atmosphere conducive to business. But the decision will also be seen as a further move towards post-war reconciliation both internally and externally. It should help to ease relations with the neighbouring Saudis, who sympathised with the losing side in the war (as Middle East International went to press President Salih was being welcomed by King Fahd at the start of his first visit to the kingdom for five years). It should also improve the government's standing in Aden, the former stronghold of the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP).
Before the war, demilitarisation of the cities was one of the YSP's main demands, though President Salih's party resisted it on the grounds that it would allow the Socialists to stir up trouble on the streets. Now, with the Socialists defeated, it is easier to allow. In any case the troops are unlikely ever to be far away, and a small naval force will remain in Aden to protect shipping.
Meanwhile the government has scored a propaganda point with the extradition to Germany of Johannes Weinrich, said to be an associate of the international terrorist, "Carlos the Jackal". Weinrich was arrested during a security sweep in Aden shortly after the war ended, adding weight to claims that the YSP's much-vaunted policy of combating terrorism was both insincere and selective. Carlos himself is said to have had close links with the YSP before it abandoned Marxism and sometimes travelled with a passport issued by the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen.