Yemen vice-president hopes to heal rift with Saudis

YEMEN is seeking to heal the rift with Saudi Arabia which developed during the Gulf crisis. Vice-President Ali Salim al-Baid said in London yesterday that long-term relations between the two countries 'shouldn't be damaged by a single incident which wasn't really of our own making'.

An estimated one million Yemeni workers were expelled from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states as a result of their government's refusal to support the US and its allies over the invasion of Kuwait.

Remittances from these expatriate workers, which had long been a mainstay of Yemen's economy, dried up. At the same time, the country's basic resources came under severe strain as returning workers camped out in their hundreds of thousands on the outskirts of cities.

Yesterday Mr Baid defended his country's stance during the war. 'When it becomes a matter for historical review the position of Yemen will be seen as one of principle - out of concern for the interests of the Arab nation and also for world peace.' He explained that Yemen had opposed both the acquisition of territory by force and the war that resulted. In place of foreign intervention, it had sought an Arab solution to the crisis.

But he added: 'Let bygones be bygones. The question now is how to cope with the consequences.' Yemen, he said, had shown goodwill towards its neighbours. 'We have to agree to work together and have better relations. Differences always exist, even among members of the same family. We have to accept that they must be talked about in a civil and rational manner.' The Gulf conflict and influx of expatriates came at a critical time for Yemen as the newly unified country was attempting to develop its economy and move towards democracy. But Mr Baid said the main problem caused by the refugees was the element of surprise. 'Yemenis have a long history of migrating, with all the difficulties that entails,' he said.

Asked if he hoped better relations with Saudi Arabia would lead to Yemenis returning to work there, he said: 'What we prefer is for our own people to settle and have a stable and prosperous life in their homeland. This is the challenge - we are trying to work out ways of coping from our own resources and getting the process of development going.' Mr Baid, who is on a private visit to Britain, said the draft Programme for National Reconstruction and Political and Economic Reforms was expected to be endorsed by the government next week and then submitted to the national assembly for approval.