The Kidnapping of Carl Shows that the Problem Still Persists: NEED FOR A CONCRETE SOLUTION! [Archives:2001/24/Reportage]

June 11 2001

Hassan Al-Zaidi
Yemen Times
The kidnapping incident of the German student Carl, and the renewed confrontations between Marib tribesmen and the military forces, are not a new phenomenon, but they surely create concern and worry for the national economy and the image of Yemen. People have started asking, “until when will this go on?”The inability of the government and tribes to come to a common ground to result in the release of the kidnapped German reflects a possible crisis in the relationship between the two rivals, the tribes, and the government.
Prior to the border agreements with the neighboring countries, the government used to accuse ‘foreign’ powers of being behind the kidnappings. Today, that excuse is no more valid. The main problem, observers say, lies within the boundaries of the country and not outside. Instability, illegal carrying of weapons, economic hardships, judicial corruption, and various negative phenomena are all contributing to the problem of kidnapping and insecurity in Yemen. However, the main problem can be viewed as the inability of the government to understand the tribal demands and sit with them in the negotiating table. It would be wiser for the government to take cognizance of the tribal values and patiently heed their grievances for a peaceful solution to the problem.
“If the government only listens. We only want it to listen and respect us as human beings. We are not the ones who prefer violence and want confrontations. We only want an indulgent some humble attitude from the government,” said a sheikh of one of the Khowlan tribes during one of the many confrontations that they had with the governmental forces.
The main ‘dangerous’ zones for tourists are located in Marib, Al-Jawf, and Shabwa governorates dominated by Bakil and Badhaj, where there is continuous turmoil and instability due to frictions between tribes and the government.
Even though kidnapping in itself has never been a tribal norm or tradition in those areas, yet according to tribesmen, the tactics seemed to have a stronger impact on the government compared to all other means. The tense relations between the tribe and government in the various stages of history have proven to be a source of concern for the stability of the country, and sometimes the region. Recently, partisanship has also contributed to intensifying this already tense relationship. The economic burdens that usually follow a long period of electoral promises have negatively affected the tribal regions and consequently triggered more hatred towards the government in many areas.
Specifically after the unification of Yemen in 1990, and adoption of the multi party system, different political parties started to create propaganda for themselves in tribal regions and cited non-fulfillment of the different political promises to insinuate the tribesmen to join their parties. The parties, especially the ruling party, understood that they could attract the tribes by having their leaders affiliated to themselves. This strategy worked fine for quite a long time.
However, when the government started distributing political favors and projects to the areas according to their loyalty to the ruling party, many of the non-affiliated tribes found themselves neglected and deprived from the very basic services and projects.
Those tribes started maneuvering and working their way to pressurize the government to provide them with developmental projects and services. The strategy of kidnapping was what many tribes found useful to exert pressure on the government to give them their ‘rights’. Those tribes tried banditry, piercing oil pipelines, looting governmental vehicles, and kidnapping influential Yemenis. However, kidnapping of foreigners was realized to be the most effective way to get the government’s attention quickly.
At the beginning, the government submitted to most of what the kidnappers wanted in one way or another. However, perhaps they realized that this will not stop kidnapping incidents from occurring. On the contrary, it would encourage others to follow suit. So it started implementing the force option.
Equipped military units were sent to areas where kidnappers held hostages in an attempt to pressurize the tribes by using force. But on many occasions, the response they received was outrageous. Tribes challenged those forces, taking advantage of their extensive topographical knowledge of those areas. On some occasions, tribesmen threatened to execute the hostages. The Abyan fiasco of 1999 was the major incident in which the military hostage rescue units proceeded to use force prematurely leading to the death of 3 British and one Australian tourists that led to the distrust of countries worldwide.
The state is currently facing a difficult crisis in dealing with those cases. Whenever mediations fail due to the government’s insistence on not giving any concessions and the tribes’ insistence in lot releasing the hostages unless their demands are fulfilled, the government has no other option but to use forces. In the latter case, the safety of the hostage is not guaranteed. This dilemma, one could guess, is a consequence of the negligence of tribal problems for years and the possession of weapons.
The leadership of the country needs to understand that the huge number of weapons in the hands of Yemenis, the inability to enforce the law, the corrupt justice system are the three main causes behind the status of instability in Yemen.
Latest statistics reveal that Carl was the 345th kidnapped foreigner and his kidnapping is the 136th incident of its kind. All the incidents, of course, resulted in the peaceful release of the hostages except for the Abyan incident of January 1999 and the kidnapping of a former Norwegian diplomat. Both incidents led to the killing of tourists because of direct police or army intervention.
The kidnapping of Carl is one of those incidents where both means, mediation and force have not so far been successful. How can the government escape this frustrating situation? More importantly, how could such incidents be prevented from happening in the future?
This incident came just one day after the first special task force units graduated under the direct supervision of Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, head of the Republican Guards. What makes this incident unique is the demands of the kidnappers for the immediate release of 6 of their tribe’s members who were sentenced to cutting off their left legs and right hands as an Islamic punishment for banditry. They refused to give up their demands saying that if all official crooks who steal public funds and receive bribes from the people were to be submitted to justice and punished, then they will agree on having their tribesmen punished as well. This puts the government in a difficult position because if it agrees on releasing the prisoners, it will be admitting in a way or another that the crooks are indeed not punished, which makes this a valid excuse for tribesmen to launch a new wave of future kidnappings.
The authorities have tried several different tactics to pressure the tribesmen to release the hostage. Among those tactics was counter kidnappings of tribesmen belonging to their tribe in an attempt to pressurize them to release the hostage in exchange of releasing the tribesmen. However, this suggests that the government has run out of options and affirms its inability to deal with the situation in a more professional way, rather than in a Mafia fashion.
Carl Hoerencke is still in captivity and military forces are still surrounding the area where Carl is kept by the time of going to the press. Time is running out for the German student who had not anticipated or even dreamt of being in such a situation. His mother had called Yemen Times pleading, “Please let him free. He loves Yemen and was planning to study medicine and come back as a doctor to serve Yemeni people. He doesn’t deserve this. Please let him go. “The poor mother is truly nervous and she has all the right to be so. After explaining to her that we are only a newspaper, and cannot do much about it except of delivering her plea, we calmed her down saying that all he needs right now is prayers. I cannot deny that after talking to her on the phone, I realized that praying may be enough for this case. But it certainly cannot be enough for future incidents. The government needs to act quickly and wisely by reducing the number of weapons in the possession of the tribals and enforcing the law and cleansing the judicial system from crook judges.
We are all still waiting for a breakthrough in the mediation efforts that seem to be unproductive so far, and hope that one of the two sides would make some concessions for the sake of Carl and his mother, father, and sister.