Yemen: It's What They Do Up There


June 30, 2010: Police have made over 30 arrests because of the June 19th raid on a prison in Aden. Al Qaeda did not take credit for this, but the prisoners busted out of that jail were al Qaeda or supporters of the group. Al Qaeda is believed to be cooperating with local separatists, who wish to revive South Yemen, which united with northern Yemen to form a united Yemen in 1990.  A major problem for the southern separatists is factionalism, and several factions are currently feuding (as in gun battles and dead bodies).

Tribal elders of the Abida and Bilharith tribes have settled a dispute over land rights, which recently led to fighting that left nine dead. The dispute was triggered when oil exploration was conducted in land claimed by both tribes. Since control of oil field land gives a tribe dibs on jobs and other economic benefits, it's something worth fighting for.

The government is building a coast guard base on Perim island (which is in the Bab Al Mandab strait, in the Gulf of Aden, between Yemen and Djibouti and astride the shipping lanes leading to the Red Sea). Construction will begin in six months.

Western donors (from Europe and North America) are offering hundreds of millions of dollars to rehabilitate Yemen. The goal is to try and eliminate the social and economic problems that have created so much poverty and animosity. That won't be easy. Tribalism is strong and many men are addicted to Khat. This is a major problem in the south, where Khat (or Qat) is grown, 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 armed tribesmen more surly and trigger happy than they would normally be. Most Yemeni adult males use  Khat, which must be relatively fresh when chewed, or else it loses its effect. About 40 percent of Yemeni women use it as well. 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. You won't fix the Yemeni economy until you fix the Khat problem.

British commandos are believed to be in Yemen, assisting in the hunt for Islamic radical cleric Anwar al Awlaki, who is believed to be encouraging British Moslems to become terrorists. The Yemeni government  refuses to attempt arresting Awlaki (an American citizen of Yemeni descent who has been connected with many recent Islamic terror attacks in the West). The government has asked Awlaki to surrender, but has stated that Awlaki would not be extradited to the United States, because Yemen does not extradite its citizens. The government also does not want to trigger a widespread tribal uprising in the south. But the government has quietly called on the British in the past, to provide SAS commandos for delicate operations. SAS has apparently been in Yemen for a while assisting in locating al Qaeda members.

In the north, the Shia rebels are sounding more rebellious week by week. The ceasefire is holding, but the rebels appear to be getting ready for another round of fighting. It's what they do up there.

June 29, 2010: The courts are active, and the death penalty is liberally applied for murder and drug cases. Today, five Yemenis and three Africans (from Kenya, Tanzania and Somalia) were sentenced to death for smuggling 1.7 tons of drugs into the country. In another case, six Somalis received twelve year sentences for piracy.  Earlier in the month, the courts abandoned the prosecution of 33 journalists, who were being attacked for reporting things government officials disagreed with. This raised a stink both locally and internationally.

June 25, 2010: Police arrested a man who recruited over a hundred Yemenis to sell organs (usually kidneys or part of their liver) to an Egyptian gang that performed the operation (paying the donor $6,000) and reselling the organ (for ten times as much). Somali pirates have offered captured sailors (who no one would ransom) as involuntary organ donors.

In the past few days, there have been several clashed with armed southern separatist tribesmen. Three soldiers, and an unknown number of tribesmen have died in these skirmishes and ambushes.

June 24, 2010: Police are questioning four men (a German, whose mother is Yemeni, an Iraqi and two Yemenis) about involvement in an assassination attempt against the British ambassador last April.





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