Sheikh Ben Shajea to YT:We will not allow any company to carry out any new demarcation in our area [Archives:2000/35/Interview]

August 28 2000

We will not allow any company to carry out any new demarcation in our area

Sheikh Mohammed Ben Shajea is one of those well-known Sheikhs in Yemen who are often surrounded with a kind of ambiguity and mystery. There are many rumors about his character and his activities that we have not been able to fathom. In our quest of the truth, it was a must to hear everything from him personally. We met him in his impregnable palace that stood in the open horizons of the Empty Quarter and had some chat together.
As you listen to his acute tone and tribal accent you get the impression that such a person can never lie to you. Unlike politicians, he is plane, direct and clear in his dealings with others. He said he was conscious about his tribesmens affairs. His only aim is to protect and save unity of his tribesmen and their land. His people are ready to follow him and share the same fate that he chooses for them.
Along with some of his men he accompanied us on a tour of the tribe to see all civil and military facilities available there. We encountered a whole tribe with no strategic income resources, depending on work of its inhabitants and their great efforts to develop and construct their home.
Politicians in Yemen and Saudi Arabia finalized the bargain at our own expense. More than 70 thousand-strong men are ready to resist any attempt to divide them and the land they have been dwelling for more than 240 years, he said.
The tribes military equipment comprises 35km field guns, anti-aircraft guns, howitzer, mortars, bazooka launchers and other weapons, impossible to be possessed by a tribe claiming to have no financial resources.
Tribes forces have been deployed over many border areas. Some of those forces were stationed opposite to the government military forces under the command of Brigadier Abdullah Dares to the south of the tribe and others were facing Saudi borders to the east and north. We got the premonition that bad things are likely to happen in the coming days. We felt that the man is determined to resist implementation of the border treaty. It is a real crisis which the governments of the two countries should study carefully and come out with solutions that save unity of land of people in order to avoid a new catastrophe for both peoples, he said.

Q: What kind of problems the tribe encounters?
A: Allow me first welcome the Yemen Times in Wadi Al-Atifiah. You can see that our tribe is located near the border-line. Let me first of all point out to two important points:
The first is related to demarcation of borders. The border treaty was welcomed by the people in the two countries. But it should be carried out in a fair way. There are demarcated tribal borders which have been known for 240 years. All tribes know those borders begin from the Red Sea, passing through the Empty Quarter to Qatar in the Gulf.
Each Yemeni tribe is opposite to a Saudi tribe which all have clear documents showing borders of each tribe. For example, we in Wailah have border documents with Yam Saudi tribe in Nijran that were signed before the existence of Yemen or Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia was established in 1934. In the same year it occupied Hijaz, Makkah and Al-Madeenah. The Taif border treaty was signed in this year between Imam Yahya Hameed and King Abdul Aziz.
Although Imam Yahya established his regime in 1917 after the departure of the Turks, his control reached this area later in time.
We are very proud of our Yemeni origin. However, we do not deny that we were instigated to stand against the revolutionaries Republicans in their war against the Royalists.
I would like to stress that the border documents we have, were signed between us and Yam tribe after equally dividing the land between us. Yemen and Saudi Arabia signed the new treaty which is unfair to us. We can never accept it. We do not believe in any border demarcation other than what is specified in the documents with us and with Yam tribe. Whatever political decisions are made by the two countries in connection with the border treaty, we will not accept them and we will not allow any company to carry out any new demarcation in our area which spreads along 225 Km to the north of Wadi Al-Atifiah.
We do not stand on a false ground. We are right and the documents which we have prove that. I am sure that if those documents are shown to the International Court it will prove that we are right.
Yemen and Saudi Arabia were supposed to have abided by Al-Taif treaty which was better and more fair than the Jeddah treaty which caused the loss of more Yemeni territories.
The other point I would like to mention is the involvement of some officials in suspicious issues detriment to Wailah tribesmen. One of them is Brigadier Abdullah Dares, commander of a large military camp of a 3, 000 soldiers who have been attacking us for more than a year. They attack us under the officials nose in Sanaa, who instead of stopping them support them with weapons and allowances. The government is able to stop their attacks, but there has been no signs for that.

Q: Why do they attack you?
A: They claim to have areas of land in Wadi Al-Atifiah and the neighboring plains. We told them to show their documents but they refused and resorted to force.
Some officials have tried to solve this dispute at directives of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Last attempt was made by Brigadier Ali Mohsen Saleh. We signed a cease-fire agreement and agreed on withdrawal of military forces and a year of reconciliation.
After signing the reconciliation agreement, two ad hoc committees to supervise the implementation of the conditions were formed. We, in Wailah tribe, were supervised by Kitaf Military Camp command while Brigadier Dares was supervised by Al-Boqa District Command. Immediately, we pulled out of our positions and ceased fire. However, troops of the second party did not withdraw and until now they havent demonstrated any respect of the conditions agreed on. Neither President Ali Abdullah Saleh nor Brigadier Ali Mohsen Saleh used their powers to make him abide by the conditions.
This proves that there is a certain design against Wailah tribe. Frankly speaking we think this plan has the blessing of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Brigadier Ali Mohsen Saleh themselves. This military stand towards Wailah has political aims, more than merely tribal disputes that can be easily solved through tribal norms.

Q: If Wadi Al-Atifiah and Wailah tribes are declared neutral zones, how would you react?
A: We will have two options:
We will not accept any border demarcation except what is fixed in our documents with Yam tribe. If the new treaty is based on that, we will welcome it, otherwise we will have another stand.
The other choice is that we will be forced to declare strong opposition if the government in Sanaa does not take action against the military attacks on us. We will be forced to do that if the government goes on supporting Abdullah Dares troops in their raids on the Wailah tribe. The government should realize that our support for it is connected with its towards the attacks on us and a satisfactory solution to the border issue. You know that our grandfathers lived here for more than 240 years controlled by the Islamic teachings through Sheikhs and other outstanding figures in the tribe. They werent controlled by any governmental body.
So, If we feel that we are not protected by the state we will do in ourselves depending on Sheikhs and our outstanding figures to run the tribes affairs. We will not then need a state!
Since the revolution of the 26 of September none of us has reported to government offices to solve his problems. As you see there is no existence of such offices here.
In fact, some schools and a clinic have been built recently at the Presidents orders. He also promised to repair the road connecting us with Al-Boqa.

Q: What are the boundaries of Wailah?
A: Wailah tribe begins in the West plains of Djabal Hadhadh in Al-Mokha and extends to the East over Wadi Al-Atifiah to the Quarter over a 225 km distance.
The width of Wailah tribe ranges over 120 km beginning from Wadi Al-Atifiah until the borders of Yam Saudi Tribe in the North. These are our boundaries at present. In the past our land reached Qatar.
Brigadier Abdullah Dares is supported by both countries, Yemen as well as Saudi Arabia in order to end us. However, I would like to tell him that whatever support he gets he will never be able to achieve his and his masters aims.
We still hope that the government of Sanaa gives up supporting him against us.

Q: Many people here hold the Saudi nationality. Do you think that this may give Saudi Arabia a right to claim possession of the territories where they live?
A: Millions of Yemenis have many nationalities that they got during theirs or their fathers immigration. This does not give their second countries a right to claim over their lands. The Saudi nationality does not give Saudi Arabia the right to say that this land is Saudi. The land, people, trees, soil and water are still Yemeni. Acquiring another nationality helps our people earn their living easily either here or in Saudi Arabia. But they remain Yemenis for ever.

Q: Ad hoc Yemeni-Saudi committees have been formed to follow up the demarcation process. Those committees have prepared a number of points. What is your comment on those points?
A: The borders that are said to be stipulated in the Jeddah treaty have not been demarcated yet.
Yemeni, as well as Saudi experts do not know the real borders of their countries.They understand Geography and topography only on paper. They made a mistake in not consulting people living near the borders who know better about the borders of the two countries. It will be another mistake if they continued implementing what is wrong.

I would like to stress that the Jeddah treaty is full of hypocrisy at the expense of Yemens land. As far as we are concerned, we are very much concerned about Wailah tribe boundaries. Other tribes borders concern their own people and the Yemeni government whose land has been a stage for conflicts while the other part is safe.