South Yemeni leaders flee as Aden falls to the north

THE FALL of Aden to forces loyal to the Yemeni President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has effectively killed off the breakaway southern Democratic Republic of Yemen, which declared independence in May, when fighting began.

Northern forces yesterday poured into all areas of Aden. Correspondents there reported that southern troops put up some resistance with rocket-launchers and automatic rifles around the port, but that they were swiftly overwhelmed by the more numerous northern forces. The northern leadership said it was in complete control of the city after what it called a popular uprising.

All the southern leadership, including Ali Salem al-Baidh, vice- president of the old united Yemen and president of the secessionist state, were first reported to have fled their last redoubt in the Hadramawt valley. Last night, however, a government official of neighbouring Oman confirmed to Reuters news agency that Mr Baidh and many of his highest officials had arrived there.

One, however, did not get away. The energy minister, Saleh Abu Bakr bin Hassainun, was killed in the fighting near Mukallah, the second city of south Yemen, which fell on Wednesday. Northern forces also seized the broadcasting station in Aden and began their own transmissions.

According to Reuters, the deputy Prime Minister of south Yemen, Mohsen Farid, said on the phone from Jeddah, where he had fled: 'The war is not over. We will regroup and continue the struggle by all possible means.'

In New York, northern and southern officials were set to continue talks about a resolution to the crisis. However, with the war in effect over, discussions about a ceasefire may be more concerned with terms of surrender.

The northern leadership has given few indications of how it envisages controlling areas of the south. After all, the south has never been ruled from Sanaa, the main northern city. It is likely that President Ali Abdullah Saleh will grant an amnesty to all but those who declared the breakaway state.

While the period of conventional warfare may be over, many expect southern forces to engage in the kind of determined guerrilla fighting for which the rugged mountains around Aden provide such an ideal terrain.

The fall of Aden marks a sad end to an experiment in Arab unity. When it started four years ago there were high hopes of success. It was in 1990 that the former Marxist leadership of south Yemen and the conservative, traditional rulers of North Yemen announced their marriage. This was preceded by a lengthy courtship but flawed by the absence of an engagement period in which time could be taken to sort out their very real differences.

It was always a mismatch. North Yemen, with a population of nearly 11 million, was three times the size of south Yemen, with fewer than 3 million inhabitants.

Neither the north nor the south is a homogeneous entity, but broadly speaking the south and north differed in religion, culture and general outlook.

The resolution of the crisis in violent fashion demonstrates once again the impotence or the unwillingness of both the international community and the Arab world to deal with it. Only a few states committed to the principle of Arab unity supported the north.

However, almost all the diplomatic initiatives have been overtaken by events on the ground. The threat of the Gulf Co-operation Council, plus Egypt and Syria, to take some further action, such as recognising the breakaway southern republic if northern forces reached Aden, now appears totally empty. An Arab League mission led by Muhammad Said Bereqdar has left Cairo but now has little role to play.

Outside commentators have sought to see the conflict in regional terms, with the north obtaining support from Iraq and Sudan, and the south from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. However, there is little evidence of any significant material support for either side.

(Photograph and map omitted)