Saudi trip strains unity in Yemen

ONLY days after the reconciliation pact between the rival leaders of north and south Yemen was signed, the southern leadership has launched its own foreign-policy initiative which will strain relations even further, writes Charles Richards.

This follows the eruption of clashes between northern and southern forces the day after the accord was signed.

During the Gulf crisis, Yemen was one of the few Arab countries which did not support the coalition led by the US and Saudi Arabia against Iraq. This enraged the Saudis, and particularly the Defence Minister, Prince Sultan, who has responsibility for Yemeni affairs. The pro-Iraqi policy was determined by Ali Abdullah Saleh, the President of Yemen (and, until the unification of the two Yemens three-and-a-half years ago, the president of North Yemen).

Now the Yemeni Vice-President, Ali Salem Al-Baidh (President of South Yemen until unity), has travelled to Saudi Arabia and Oman to seek better relations with his neighbours. Salem Saleh Muhammad, a member of Yemen's five-man presidential council and of Al-Baidh's Yemen Socialist Party on Tuesday paid the first visit to Kuwait of any Yemeni official since the Iraqi invasion in 1990. He went on to the United Arab Emirates.

He told a local news agency that signing the accord was only the beginning of the road to end the crisis theatening the unity of Yemen.

Mr Muhammad said the accord 'needs efforts by all political sides and all those who want to spare Yemen a civil war, violence and division'. He said that Vice-President al-Baidh will not be returning to the capital, Sanaa, until all armed forces are withdrawn from cities and implementation of the accord starts.

He has been in Aden since July when his feud with President Saleh over political reforms started.

At the time of unification, most Yemeni politicians, both north and south, felt they would be better off after the union. But the ill-fated pro-Iraqi policy has left Yemen bereft of the largesse from Arab states on which its poor and relatively populous country depended. There is no evidence that the separate missions of the two southerners on the presidential council will increase the likelihood of aid flowing once more.