Close call on border [Archives:2004/711/Front Page]

February 12 2004

A prominent sheik of the Wayilah tribe, which lives along the border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, told Yemen Times that up to 3,000 tribesmen are preparing to fight Saudi forces unless Saudi Arabia pulls out of Yemen.

Tribal threats
The sheik claims that Saudi Arabia has already built a security fence 4 to 7 km beyond the neutral zone inside Yemen, stretching from Jabal Hobash to Jabal Al Fara.
“Saudi Arabia has already built a security fence inside Yemen,” said the sheik, “and we are ready to fight any time if Saudi Arabia doesn't remove what they have built in our country.”
On February 7, leaders of the Wayilah tribe issued a statement protesting the Yemeni-Saudi border committee's memorandum which demands tribesmen to identify their properties outside the international borderline.

Diplomatic maneuvering
Even though tribes are preparing for a conflict, a Yemeni government official told Yemen Times on Tuesday that Saudi authorities did accept to remove the separation fence along its border with Yemen after extensive Egyptian and US efforts paid off in convincing Saudi authorities to do so.
“Both the US and Egypt exerted efforts with Yemen and Saudi Arabia resulting in an agreement to remove all constrictions made by the Saudis,” said the Yemeni official.

Exchange of visits
The Yemeni government recently complained that Saudi Arabia was building a barrier inside the 20 km neutral zone between the two countries that was established by the 2000 border agreement. Last Monday, Talal Angawi, head of Saudi Arabia's border guard, told pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat that the government is building a security “screen” on Saudi soil to help curb the flow of militants and weapons. On the same day, the Yemeni government sent a delegation headed by the Deputy Interior Minister to Jeddah to discuss any differences between the building of the security fence and the 2000 border agreement.
The Saudi government has stepped up security along the southern border with Yemen – a traditional route for drug and arms smuggling – after suicide bombings in Riyadh in May and November last year. Saudi officials believe most of the weapons used in militant operations in Saudi Arabia are smuggled in from Yemen. Yemeni government officials estimate that there are 60 million weapons in Yemen with a population of 20 million.
In December, Saudi officials said that they had arrested 4,047 people and apprehended large quantities of weapons and drugs along the border with Yemen.
In June, both countries signed an agreement to upgrade border surveillance. However, tension has been growing between Yemen and Saudi Arabia since the beginning of January after the Saudis began the construction of the security fence. Yemeni products have also been prevented from entering Saudi Arabia in the last few weeks. Recently, Prince Nayef Bin Abdelaziz Al Saud, Interior Minister of Saudi Arabia, declared that Yemen did not have the right to join the GCC because of its geographical location. He later changed his statement by pointing out that Yemen must meet certain prerequisites to join GCC.
Sheik Mohammed Bin Shagaa, once the head of the Wayilah tribe, died in April 2002 in a car accident, considered by many as a mysterious accident. He was fully against the 2000 border agreement.