Five Scuds fired at Yemeni capital as war worsens

YEMEN'S civil war closed in on the rival power centres yesterday as the Saba news agency said southern forces fired five Scud missiles at the capital Sana'a, while northern forces advanced on the Socialist stronghold of Aden.

The Saba report said the Scuds did not cause any material damage or casualties. But an American oil executive, speaking from Sana'a by satellite telephone, said a Scud missile had hit the presidential palace and another had landed in an amusement park nearby. South Yemen is known to have six Scud missile launchers.

A north Yemen official said southern warplanes had dropped their payload at random on Sana'a 'causing damage to some civilian areas'.

Meanwhile a north Yemen military source, quoted by the Qatari news agency, said northern troops had shot down seven southern warplanes during battles in the south.

Fighting was reported a few miles from the southern port of Aden as foreign governments began to evacuate their citizens by sea.

Up to 300 Britons assembled at Steamer Point to be picked up with other westerners by the French naval ship Jules Verne. They were expected to be taken to Djibouti, where the British vice-consul from Addis Ababa was preparing to meet them.

The Russians - who have strong links with Aden - were sending an Ilyushin-76 to collect their workers and technical experts. They had reportedly asked for a ceasefire to allow the evacuation.

Southern Socialist forces - controlled by the dismissed vice-president, Ali Salem al-Baidh - renewed their air and rocket attacks on the capital, Sana'a, early yesterday, but the damage seems to have been mainly psychological. More important, northern forces have been making gains on the ground.

It is clear that the rout last Wednesday of one of the south's strongest artillery brigades, the Basuhib, which had controlled the north-south highway at Dhamar, was a setback for the Socialists.

Yesterday, two of the north's best units were said to be encircling Aden. The city was quiet during the evacuation of foreigners, but a French official reported fighting on the outskirts.

United Nations relief workers said some Somali refugees had been injured by shelling near al-Khoud camp, 24 miles outside the city.

President Saleh, who was directing operations from al-Bayda on the old north-south border on Thursday, has embarked on the biggest gamble of his 15-year presidency.

He faces two dangers if the fighting drags on. One is that if his troops spend too long in the south he will be vulnerable to attacks by disaffected elements in the north.

The other is that the threat of foreign intervention could save the Socialists by forcing a stalemate. The Arab League is meeting in emergency session today at which Egypt is expected to propose sending an Arab peacekeeping force to Yemen.

The Egyptian foreign minister, Amre Moussa, said Egypt would propose sending troops if the Arab League and the Yemeni government approved.

- The US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, Robert Pelletreau, who was sent to mediate in Yemen but was caught in the fighting, left yesterday for neighbouring Oman.