WITH ADEN'S water and electricity cut off, Northern forces established inside the city boundary, and reportedly in control of the airport, and the self-appointed "president" nowhere to be seen, the breakaway Democratic Republic of Yemen showed every sign, by the second week in July, of being on the brink of collapse.
Nobody seriously believes that the fragments of territory still held by the separatists can form a viable state and, as Middle East International went to press, it appeared that only some major upset (such as a tribal rebellion) or foreign intervention on a massive scale could prevent President Ali Abdullah Salih's forces from winning the war. The Gulf states, together with Egypt and Syria, were due to consider their position this week, but, in the face of stem American warnings, they seemed unlikely to embark on a course that might easily destablise the whole region.
If the outcome of the war is already decided, the means for ending it is not. Tragically, the longer the fighting continues now, the less it achieves - and the higher the civilian casualties. Despite the failure of a truce agreement signed in Moscow on 30 June, talks continued in New York and by 2 July a mechanism for implementing and supervising a cease-fire had been agreed. After a short break, however, shelling resumed on 4 July.
Perversely, as often happens, the prospect of a cease-fire intensified the fighting. President Salih's forces pushed further into Aden while Southern forces, whose air power is still quite effective, bombed a vital oil installation in the North, shutting down the entire Marib field. The air raid in turn provided an excuse for the continuing assault on Aden, where the airport has been used for military flights. Denying any intention to take Aden itself, the Northern planning minister, Abd al-Karim al-Iryani, said: "Our only target is the airport." As the airport is placed between the old and new parts of the city "only" may be an understatement.
Meanwhile confusion surrounded the whereabouts of the breakaway leader, Ali Salim al-Bid. His "defence minister" announced that he was in Aden while his "vice-president" insisted he was in Hadramawt. Government sources in Sana'a meanwhile claimed that he had been wounded in Mukalla, had been driven by car to Oman and from there had gone to Abu Dhabi. Bid's failure to deny this in person only added to the speculation. Whether his wounds are physical or metaphorical remains to be seen, but he may well have been pushed aside after a series of quarrels, not only with his fellow Socialists but also with his Saudi backers, who have privately accused him of incompetence.
Fiddling while Aden burns Nothing perhaps better illustrates the sorry state of the Southern leadership than its formation of a committee on 27 June to supervise the conversion of Aden's brewery (the only one in the Arabian peninsula) from the manufacture of beer to soft drinks. Given the intensity of the surrounding battle and the fact that the brewery had ceased to function two weeks earlier through lack of water, the move gave every appearance of fiddling while Rome burned.
As the organisation of the breakaway state degenerates, it is increasingly difficult to know who the various leaders really represent or what influence they have. Since Sana'a does not recognise the "Democratic Republic of Yemen" it will not talk to anyone acting officially on its behalf It is willing to talk to the Socialist party but "vice-president" Abd al-Rahman al-Jifri, who appears to control the Socialist people's militia in Aden (and just about everything else) is not a Socialist.
For the talks in New York, Haidar Abu-Bakr al-Attas, who is prime minister and finance minister in the breakaway state, attended in a purely personal capacity. In Moscow, Salim Salih Mohammed signed the truce with the North as a "member of the presidential council", since he is in the bizarre position of holding that title in both the Republic of Yemen and the breakaway state.
Such complications add weight to a gloomy scenario circulating last week: that whatever deals the leaders make, and in whatever capacity, the war may not end cleanly; that separatist elements may re-emerge as a guerrilla resistance movement which could last for years, frustrating any hopes for post-war stability and democracy.