Yemen: I Got High


February 24, 2010:  The government sees itself fighting a three front war. In the north, the ceasefire with the Shia rebels is sort of holding. In the past, the Shia rebels have been beaten down by better armed and more numerous soldiers, asked for a ceasefire, then used it to prepare for another round of rebellion. That seems to be what is going on up there, despite the pounding the rebellious Shia Houthi tribesmen took from Yemeni and Saudi forces. The rebels are refusing to comply with the conditions of the cease fire, and accuse government troops of continuing to attack. But it's the rebels who are opening fire, and blocking government access to rebel areas. At this rate, the ceasefire will cease to exist in another week or so.

In the south, separatists are being arrested, with nearly a hundred rounded up so far. Many southerners feel they got shortchanged by the 1990 unification deal, and were harshly put down in 1994 when they rebelled. The southern separatists are disunited and unable mount a strong resistance to government control. The government keeps the peace by paying off (what it hopes is) enough southern dissidents to prevent another civil war.

Then there is al Qaeda, which has support among the many Islamic conservative Yemenis. Al Qaeda is not a large presence in the country. Perhaps a few hundred full time members, and a few thousand part-time supporters. Nothing like Iraq or Pakistan, or even Somalia. The government does not want to start more tribal wars by going after al Qaeda who are living in remote villages, protected by sympathetic tribesmen. But the airports are scrutinizing people headed in, or out, more carefully, and detaining al Qaeda suspects. The navy is trying to keep Somalis out, but these are brought across the Gulf of Aden by Yemeni and Somali smugglers, who have 400 kilometers of coastline to land on. Moreover, the navy has been renting itself out to protect ships, moving through the Gulf, from pirates. While stopping al Qaeda terrorists from getting into the country is important, money talks louder. In any event, the Somali Islamic radicals pledge to send aid to their al Qaeda brethren in Yemen appears to be more bluster than real. Al Qaeda isn't doing so well in Somalia either. In Yemen, al Qaeda is the primary target for American counter-terror forces (who are contributing intelligence collection, training and $150 million in cash.) Al Qaeda has issued a lot of threats lately, to attack targets in Yemen, the United States and the West in general. But unless they plan on getting out of the country via smuggling boats to Somalia (which usually head that way nearly empty), the threats are just that, threats by al Qaeda members stuck, and hunted, in Yemen.

February 23, 2010: The UN was only able to get $4 million of the $39 million is sought from donor nations to feed over 200,000 Yemenis who fled the fighting in the north. The money sought would also pay for removing mines and building temporary shelters. Potential donors were put off by the corruption in these operations, and how much of the aid would go to supporting rebel fighters or be stolen by government officials. The many NGOs that administer these programs no longer have any credibility when they insist they can control the distribution of aid. So the donors, in Yemen and in similar situations, are increasingly refusing to answer pleas for cash.

February 21, 2010: In the south, police stepped up arrests of separatist leaders.

February 20, 2010: Shia rebels blocked Yemeni troops from reaching the Saudi border, in violation of the ceasefire agreement.

February 19, 2010: In the south, an ambush left a police commander and a soldier dead, and two other people wounded.

February 18, 2010: Shia rebels in the north handed over, to the government, two Saudi soldiers they had captured. There are supposed to be another two Saudi soldiers held captive that were supposed to be freed. Later the rebels said that the remaining two Saudi captives were dead.

East of the capital, police arrested three men suspected of belonging to al Qaeda.

February 15, 2010:  In the north, two soldiers and three rebel tribesmen died when an anti-vehicle mine they were removing from a road, went off. Removing rebel mines is part of the ceasefire agreement. The rebels want these mines removed so they can use the roads again. The rebels are particularly eager to open the roads so food and drugs (especially Khat) can get through. Elsewhere in the north, rebels fired on a checkpoint, killing a colonel who had stopped there to have lunch.

February 14, 2010: Shia rebels handed over one of the five Saudi soldiers they say they have. Otherwise, the rebels appear to be complying with the ceasefire terms. There is, however, a problem with rebel demands that tribesmen held by the government be released. This was not part of the ceasefire deal. Only the rebels were to release any prisoners they had.

February 13, 2010: In the south, police killed two separatist demonstrators and wounded several others. Arrests of prominent separatists was stepped up. The government is trying to take separatist leaders out of circulation, in order to disrupt demonstrations and organized activity. The southerners are particularly upset about not getting more of the revenue from oil fields in the south. Most of the oil revenue is stolen by government officials (including southerners.)

Another touchy subject, especially in the south, is Khat (or Qat). Khat is grown in Yemen, consuming 40 percent of the water supply, and smuggled quickly to Saudi customers each day. Khat is illegal in Saudi Arabia. In Yemen and Somalia, Khat chewing has made militiamen more surly and trigger happy than they would normally be. Khat chewing makes guys with guns more surly and trigger happy than they would normally be. Khat must be relatively fresh, or else it loses its effect. Khat gives you more of a buzz than caffeine or nicotine, but less than stronger drugs. In some countries it is legal, but regulated. Many do not consider it a dangerous drug, but Yemenis spend over a billion dollars a year on it, and cultivation of Khat has ruined Yemeni agriculture and caused a worsening water shortage. Khat production has increased over 50 percent in the last five years. There's big money in Khat, and that money buys cooperation from corrupt government officials. So efforts to impose a legal ban on Khat growing have failed.

February 12, 2010: In the north, Shia rebels fired on soldiers and government officials. One soldier was killed. Seven other soldiers were wounded. 

February 11, 2010: The northern rebels and the government agreed to a ceasefire, although one last clash left twelve troops and 24 rebels dead.




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