Fighting erupts across Yemen

Fighting erupts across Yemen

by Brian Whitaker

Originally published in The Guardian, 6 May 1994

YEMEN was at war yesterday as forces controlled by the feuding president and vice-president fought each other throughout the country. All the main airports came under attack, as well as economic and military targets.

In Sana'a, the northern Yemeni capital, explosions were heard as jets from the south roared over the city. Large parts of the region were without electricity as aircraft controlled by Vice-President Ali Salem al-Baidh's southern-based Socialist Party attacked the two main power stations.

For much of yesterday all telephone contact with Yemen - north and south - was lost.

In Sana'a, President Ali Abdullah Salih, the northern leader, declared a state of emergency, and France said it was evacuating its own and any European Union nationals from Aden.

Later, parliament met and formally dismissed the vice-president, though no one expects him to take any notice.

Sana'a radio, describing Mr al-Baidh as a traitor, accused him of leading Yemen to war by threatening to end the four-year marriage between the tribalist north and the formerly Marxist south.

During Wednesday night, aircraft controlled by the socialists attacked northern airports in Ta'izz, Hodeida and Sana'a. Yesterday, north Yemen's military command was reported as saying it had shot down five of the southern jets, but the claim was unconfirmed.

An official from the southern command in Aden said the attacks had been carried out to paralyse the airports.

Witnesses said a rocket exploded yards from a Jordanian airliner about to take off from Sana'a airport. Two military aircraft were destroyed and the control tower damaged. The runway was said to be operational, although the airport remained closed.

Northern military aircraft went into action at around 5am. However, by then southern aircraft had attacked oil and pipeline facilities at Marib and Hodeida port. The attacks were apparently aimed at cutting the north's fuel supplies.

The northern command reported pitched battles along the former border between north and south.

Meanwhile, the south's main airport, in Aden, was badly damaged by northern forces. The south claimed planes also hit a power station, port, oil refinery and television station. The southern airline, Alyemda, had flown its entire fleet to Saudi Arabia the previous day.

The vice-president had also left his Aden headquarters, reported to be under attack. But southern sources claimed the attackers were surrendering.

A Foreign Office spokesman said no evacuation of the 800 Britons in Yemen was planned. A ship from Djibouti is expected in Aden today to pick up French citizens. In Washington, the state department advised American citizens to leave Yemen.