East, West cooperate on S. Yemen. Common aim: removal of foreigners from war-torn nation
Out of the smoke and murk of the power struggle in South Yemen, the close humanitarian cooperation between Soviets and Westerners has emerged as a bright spot. British government officials, only months ago trading accusations and expelled spies with the Kremlin, now refer to the ``order'' and ``sense of humanity'' of the Soviets.
By Monday, about 2,500 foreigners -- British, Soviet, French, and others -- in Aden, the embattled South Yemeni capital, had been ferried to safety across the Red Sea to Djibouti. The Soviets, British, French, and others continued efforts to rescue thousands more still in danger. The gray warships of several powers and the white, brightly-lit royal yacht Britannia glided back and forth across the straits between Aden and Djibouti.
From the start of the evacuation operations on Jan. 18, British Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe said, British and Soviet officials in London, Moscow, and Djibouti were in constant touch as part of a coordinated evacuation effort.
Sir Geoffrey confirmed that the ships, including the royal yacht Britannia, would continue the shuttle services as long as foreigners are stranded in Aden. ``For each of these trips,'' he told the British Broadcasting Corporation, ``we do try to secure the Soviets' foreknowledge and cooperation.''
Until the fighting, which broke out Jan. 13 after a coup attempt, the Soviets ran naval and air operations in Aden. Some analysts here say that 7,000 or more Soviet and East-bloc nationals still remain in South Yemen with several hundred Westerners, but the Soviets were said to be preparing to depart.
There are a few hitches in Western-Soviet contacts in Aden, especially language problems. As Sir Geoffrey pointed out, Moscow ``can't speak for the disordered fighting groups on the ground.''
Uncertainty over who, if anyone, controls the half-ruined city and port of Aden further hampers the evacuation. Did hard-line Marxist rebels win out, as they claimed Monday in radio broadcasts? Do backers of President Ali Nasir Muhammad Hasani -- who is more favorable than the hard-line Marxists toward South Yemen's moderate Arab neighbors, North Yemen and Saudi Arabia -- still hold strong points?
President Hasani was variously reported to have: made a round trip to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and secured at least verbal support there from Ethiopia's Marxist leader, Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam; taken refuge in North Yemen, after the Addis Ababa visit; or flown to Moscow.
The fighting has involved tribes in the mountains near Aden, especially the private tribal army of Col. Ali Ahmad Nasir Antar Bishi, a rebel leader and former defense minister. In the 1960s, Colonel Antar led a guerrilla war against the British.
There were contradictory reports as to whether tribesmen in the Lahej region, west of Aden, and along disputed desert frontiers between Saudi Arabia and South Yemen were also involved in the factional fighting. In some of the frequent Saudi-Yemeni political turbulence since 1969, these tribes have often chosen the side offering the best pay, rather than the one with the most attractive ideology.
Frances Scaddan, wife of the British consul in Aden, who arrived in Djibouti with her two children aboard the British frigate Jupiter, said on the situation in Aden: ``The rebels are gradually gaining control in all strategic areas. . . . It's house-to-house fighting. The rebels are shooting [President] Ali Nasir's supporters as they rout them out.''
Analysts say a broad spectrum of South Yemeni politicians attended unsuccessful peace talks in Aden's Soviet Embassy last week.
One delegate was a staunch supporter of rebel leader and ex-President Abdal Fattah Ismail. Another was an associate of Colonel Antar. The third was a man very close to the Soviets, and the fourth was the commander of the Peoples' Militia Force.
Though there was heavy Soviet pressure to end the fighting, the meeting produced only a brief truce enabling the foreigners' evacuation to begin.
Among South Yemen's few allies, only the Palestine Liberation Organization and Col. Muammar Qadaffi of Libya indicated a desire to get involved. Colonel Qadaffi's early offer to send Libyan peace-keeping troops was largely ignored.
However, South Yemeni border guards of uncertain loyalty were reported to have halted a truck convoy bringing 300 PLO fighters, armed with white flags, and calling themselves ``peacemakers'' from North Yemen.