Saleh’s visit helps…Saudis stop wall [Archives:2004/714/Local News]

February 23 2004

By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff

A hot political fuse was doused this week when Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh convinced Saudi Arabian King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz to stop construction of a barrier on the border between their two countries.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi, who was part of the Yemeni delegation that went to Riyadh for two days of talks, the Saudi government made the decision to stop building the controversial barrier after both parties agreed to work together to boost border security.
“Saudi Arabia will suspend building barriers,” Al-Qirbi told The Yemen Times. “We have also established a committee from both sides which will be responsible for coordinating the security of the border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, making it a joint responsibility from both sides. This will also include the removal of any existing barriers that have already been built.”
The combined effort to increase border security will include running joint border patrols, establishing security checkpoints, deciding on where shepherds can pass and putting up observation towers.
The Yemeni government had complained about the construction of the barrier, claiming that it was in violation of the 2000 border agreement. Within the agreement, a demilitarized zone between 5 km to 20 km on both sides of the two countries was established.
According to Al-Qirbi, parts of the barrier that have already been built are on the Saudi side of the demilitarized zone. He added that the Yemeni government's complaint was not only that the barrier violated the agreement, but Yemen wants to also defend the rights and the way of life of tribes living along the border.
“This area is supposed to be for pasturing,” said Al-Qirbi. “That was part of the agreement. The tribesmen have been allowed to cross over from one side to another for pasturing. That is a traditional way of life for tribesmen in that area.”
The Minister also said that the barrier has been constructed in different locations along the border, some as concrete-filled pipelines and others as sand barriers.
It is reported that Saudi authorities believe arms involved in suicide bombings last year in Riyadh that killed over 50 people were traced to being smuggled out of Yemen. Arrests and arms seizures are frequent in Saudi Arabia near the border, and the Saudi government has intensified its efforts to clamp down on Islamic militants blamed for terrorist attacks on Saudi soil.
Many believe that Yemen's efforts to hunt down suspected sympathizers of the Al-Qaeda terror network have been successful.
“The Yemeni government has done an excellent job of increasing the security of its country,” said one foreign diplomat. “The government has captured some key suspects, it has controlled kidnapping of foreigners and it has shown a deep commitment to continue strengthening security.”
Others, however, think that having a major impact on smuggling arms and infiltration along the 1,800 km (1,100-mile) porous border will be difficult.
“Smuggling is a part of the economic principle of supply and demand,” said Al-Qirbi. “No matter what methods you use, like increasing patrols, building barriers, and so forth, it will continue. But it doesn't mean that governments should look the other way. They must confront these challenges and coordinate their activities and try to minimize the flow of arms.”
Some have questioned Saudi Arabia's commitment to the agreement since it was not included in an official statement released after the talks. Al-Qirbi said the agreement was finalized and can be found in the minutes of the agreement that include the Ministers of Interior who were responsible for the agreement. It said in the statement that both countries condemn “terror in all its shapes and forms,” and both sides have a “determination to confront those who commit terror.”
The statement also said, “The two countries affirm their desire to promote their brotherly relations, cooperation and partnership, with the same brotherly spirit reflected in the border pact they signed on June 12, 2000.”