Yemen: Sticky Fingers

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April 24, 2010:  The ceasefire in the north continues to crumble. The main problem is that many of the rebels refuse to come down from their mountain hideouts and surrender their weapons. These rebels sustain themselves by extorting money from villagers using the roads. The rebels are also demanding that the government release a thousand rebel tribesmen being held in prison camps. But the government won't do that until the rest of the rebels come down and disarm. Thus the ceasefire is stalled. To make matters worse, some Shia rebels have been passing out leaflets in villages, calling for holy war against the government. This reinforces government suspicions that Iran is backing the rebels.

With the ceasefire stalled, the tourists and foreign investors are staying away. This is bad for the poorest country in the Arab world, one that has a 40 percent unemployment rate. But for the clans and tribes controlling the government, there is prosperity. The ruling groups (representing less than ten percent of the population) control the oil and natural gas revenue, as well as taxes extracted from larger businesses. The government also steals as much foreign aid as possible. For this reason, only ten percent of the $8 billion foreign aid recently pledged, has been delivered. This is because the donors don't trust the government to allow the aid to reach the needy. The government resists donor controls over how the aid is actually distributed, and the stalemate continues, largely in the shadows. Most of the donors are wealthy Gulf Arab states, who know all about corruption. The Yemeni government will, at best, offer to distribute the aid to areas that are pro-government (leaving refugees from pro-rebel areas destitute.) As is the ancient custom, a compromise is being negotiated.

The central government treats the 70,000 members of the armed forces well, and troops are recruited (and retained) based on their loyalty to the rulers. The government is using military aid from the United States ($67 million last year, $150 million this year) to reinforce the loyalty of the troops. This is particularly the case with the Special Forces brigade. While only containing a few percent of the army manpower, the Special Forces brigade is receiving a third of the American military aid. The U.S. wants to turn these guys into more effective terrorist hunters. American Special Forces are in Yemen (in small numbers) to supervise distribution of aid and training in the use of new equipment and weapons.

The government reported that violence (mostly separatist and al Qaeda related) in the south has (for the first three months of the year) left 18 dead and 120 wounded. Ten of the dead were security forces, the other eight were civilians. Civilian groups believe far more protestors were killed. The casualties occurred during 245 demonstrations and 87 terror attacks (bombs or gunfire.)

April 18, 2010: In the south, near Aden, police tried to arrest three al Qaeda men (believed responsible for several recent attacks) at a checkpoint.  The men resisted, there was a gun battle, and two of the suspects were killed, while the third was arrested.

 

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