UK’s new ambassador to Yemen Times:The Yemeni government has to resolve al-Houthi issue [Archives:2004/767/Community]

August 26 2004

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
Being an expert in the fight on terrorism, the appointment of Mr. Michael Gifford as the United Kingdom's new ambassador to Yemen has invited speculation about his job in the country.
In his first interview with a Yemeni newspaper, Mr. Gifford did not hesitate in openly admitting that Yemen-UK cooperation in the fight on terrorism is one of the major issues that he will deal with while in Yemen.
Having worked in Cairo during 2001-2004 as the deputy head of mission, Gifford had accumulated some experience in dealing with Middle Eastern countries. Noting that he was also worked in the Counter Terrorism Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he also is somewhat experienced in the field of fighting terrorism.
Yemen Times met with Mr. Gifford at the embassy in Sana'a and filed the following interview.

Security and counter terrorism: Top priority
Although he was reluctant to talk in detail about security cooperation, Mr. Gifford pointed out that the British are involved in the training of Yemeni security personnel, and that their assistance to Yemen includes “assistance to the Coast Guard and contracts with various Yemeni government organizations to try to improve their capacity to cooperate with us, and with the international community on the terrorism fight.” He said that his country is interested in developing the security cooperation it has with Yemen in the future, and encouraging other European countries to join with them. He admitted that there is military training going on, but he preferred not to talk about it in a public interview. “The training which goes on, does not include a large number of British personnel. It is quite limited in scope but it could, in the future, also include, for example, sending back Yemeni officials to the UK for specialist training. It is something we want to develop and it is something which Yemen is keen to take forward with us,” he said.

Development and Commercial Relationship
However, the ambassador said that development assistance would also be a key issue in the talks between Saleh and British officials. “We want to cover the broad issue of modernization and reform in Yemen. We want to speak about the commercial relations between the two countries and see what we can do to enhance these. In addition to these, we will be discussing regional issues: Iraq, Palestine, Sudan and other issues” he pointed out.
The development aid of Britain to Yemen, according to Mr. Gifford, is growing very rapidly. “In 2002 we had a bilateral program at some GBP2 million. This year it is growing to GBP6 million. So there is rapid growth in the bilateral assistance to Yemen and that is focused on health care, education, the position of women and poverty reduction. That assistance will continue and represents a commitment from Britain towards Yemen. And we have a good relationship with government and non-governmental organizations. So development work will continue and I think there will be some discussions on that during the president's visit,” the ambassador said.
“On the commercial side, I think that trade between Yemen and Britain is perhaps lower than both countries would like. We recognize that the Government can not force people to do business overseas, it is not the way that governments operate. I think the job of governments, both in Yemen and UK, is to try to create the conditions where trade and investment can flourish. That means tackling some very difficult issues, like that of security, corruption, and the legal framework. I also think we need to look for measures to protect investments in both directions, because at the ed of the day, trade is better than aid, if we can develop business confidence between the two countries,” he added.

Concern over Sa'ada Fight
The ambassador said he can not comment on the statement of his predecessor Frances Guy, who said that Hussien al-Houthi's rebellion in Sa'ada is not a terrorist act. However, he expressed concern over the loss of lives in the fight. “As far as al-Houthi goes, we regard this as a serious issue but it is essentially for the Yemeni government to resolve. I should say that we are very concerned to hear about the losses of lives on the government's side and indeed on the rebel side and, of course, the position of the inhabitants of Sada'a is a concern to us as well,” he said. But, he said that the question of whether or not al-Houthi represents terrorism is one for debate.
Mr. Gifford said, “It is not my job to come here and criticize the Yemeni government publicly for that. A lot of discussions will take place in private, and we will explore where the gaps are. One of the issues that concern us is, for example, the easy availability of weapons in Yemen and how they can spread easily to other countries. I think this links to the global nature of terrorism these days, ten years ago, we would have said that what happens within one nation's borders, is not the concern of other countries. Now, just as Yemen is concerned with what is happening in Britain, we are also concerned with what happens in Yemen, as that would have an effect on Yemen itself and on the regional and international community.”
He said that his agenda in Yemen is that he wants to “encourage cooperation on development issues of modernization and reform, the position of women, and education.” He also highlighted the importance of the media, and is keen to support the development of the media in Yemen, hopes it can make use of the British experience.
“I have been struck by the professionalism of your media including Yemen Times which I have been a regular reader of,” he added.
The British ambassador said that he hopes the President's visit to London would be an opportunity to further develop the historical Yemeni-British relationship, and to clear up misunderstandings which have existed since before the kidnappings of some Western tourists in Abyan in 1998.

Abu al-Hamza
With regards to extremist cleric Abu al-Hamza al-Masri, (whose extradition for trial on charges of terrorist acts has been repeatedly asked for by Yemen), Mr. Gifford said that the UK has agreed to an extradition request to the US. Currently, he is in UK custody while his judicial process continues. The hearing will probably take place in October.” It is a judicial process, not a political one which has to follow through,” he said. He stressed that the UK government could not fulfill the Yemeni request, due to the lack of an extradition treaty between the two countries.
The British government has also started parallel action to remove Abu al-Hamza's British citizenship. “We take the Yemeni government's concerns about this seriously. I do not know if this issue will come up when the President is in the UK,” he said.
He pointed out that he was not aware of any other requests from the Yemeni government concerning the extradition of other extremists living in London, or whether his colleagues at the Home Office had received this or not.