Foreigners flee as civil war reaches Aden

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NORTH YEMEN said last night that its troops were poised to enter the southern stronghold of Aden, but the picture remained confused with southerners insisting they had repulsed several northern attacks. Foreigners were streaming out of the city.

According to the official news agency, based in the capital Sanaa in the north, 'violent clashes are taking place at the gates of Aden between government forces and rebel (southern) troops'. The agency said a southern brigade had been destroyed in Abyan province, near the city, and two of the south's warplanes shot down as the north seized control of al-Dhaleh, a town 60km (25 miles) north of the port.

Northern officers took the few Sanaa-based correspondents to Lawdar, 150km from Aden, to tell them they were closing in on Aden. However, they conceded they had lost much materiel, and the southern air force was still active.

The first Britons to be rescued from Yemen, about 40 administration workers for the Canadian Occidental Petroleum company, arrived at Stansted airport via Djibouti yesterday, but some 700 British expatriates remain in Yemen. In London, the Foreign Office said it was working on an evacuation plan. 'We are now looking at about 100 to 150 who would still like to come out,' said a spokesman. 'We will probably try to get a civilian airliner in over the next day or so to fly out from Sanaa.' If that proved impossible, the spokesman said, 'we will look to military means'. That probably involves sending in a Hercules transport plane. French warships are continuing to take off foreigners from Aden.

Diplomats said Aden was surrounded in a classic pincer movement and that northern forces had captured the south's main airbase at al-Anad, 50km away. However, a correspondent for the French news agency, Agence France- Presse, said the city, with more than half a million people, was calm, although citizens were being handed weapons as if for a last-ditch struggle. The south said it had repelled northern forces in al-Kawt, 30km east of Aden. The north said southern forces fired five Scud missiles at Sanaa yesterday, but caused no damage.

A less gloomy assessment of the fighting - from a southern view - came from Robert Pelletreau, of the US State Department, who was in Sanaa on Thursday. He understood two northern units had been blocked by southern units 'who are resisting very strongly'.

The south's leader, Yemen's Vice-President, Ali Salem al-Beidh, said he would be ready for talks with President Ali Abdullah Saleh to end the conflict by implementing an accord reached under Jordanian auspices in February. His offer has been rebuffed. Mr Pelletreau said President Saleh had declared that he was no longer willing to deal with 'those Communists'.

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