Yemen: Another Job for the U.N.

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To the blare of military bands and the skirl of bagpipes, a troopship last week steamed into Egypt's sweltering Sinai port of Tor. Aboard were 2,000 Egyptian soldiers, the first big contingent returning from the war in Yemen. Army Chief of Staff Lieut. General Ali Amer hailed them as "victorious troops who have achieved a 20th century miracle," to wit: "Snatching the Yemeni people from the pit of poverty, ignorance and disease and leading them toward the path of dignity and development."

Double Trouble. The return home of even a token contingent of Egyptians was achieved by the quiet diplomacy of veteran U.S. Diplomat Ellsworth Bunker, 68, who last year put together the Dutch-Indonesian settlement that handed West Irian to Indonesia's Sukarno. Last week the United Nations announced that the parties embroiled in the Yemen civil war had accepted Bunker's proposal for a U.N. observer team with a double job. It will make sure that Saudi Arabia ends its support of the royalist tribesmen fighting to restore Imam Mohammed el Badr to the throne he lost seven months ago, and also that Egypt's 28,000-man expeditionary force pulls out as promised.

In obtaining the settlement, Bunker made three trips to Saudi Arabia and held "extensive talks" with President Gamal Abdel Nasser in Cairo. Giving force to Bunker's arguments was the basic policy decision of the Kennedy Administration to back the pro-Nasser Yemeni republicans against the feudal royalist tribes. This decision was undoubtedly conveyed, tactfully, to Saudi Arabia's Premier Prince Feisal by Bunker. Unquestionably, Nasser was also told that there is a limit to his expansionist drive in the Middle East, and that the U.S. unalterably opposes his stirring up trouble in other Arab countries. Uppermost in Washington's mind was the danger that the fighting might spread into Saudi Arabia, where the U.S. has big oil holdings.

Switched Allegiance. The U.N. observer team, which will be set up by the former U.N. Congo commander, Swedish Major General Carl Von Horn, is a device to save political face for everyone. Saudi Arabia had already been cutting back on its supply of money and guns to the royalists, largely because Egypt's projected plan for unity with Syria and Iraq made Nasser far too formidable an opponent. The U.N. intervention also gives Nasser a way out of the Yemen mess, which has tied up a third of his army at a cost of $1,000,000 a day and nearly 5,000 casualties. On balance, Nasser emerges as a clear winner. Though promising to remove his troops, he has the privilege of leaving an unspecified number for the "training" of Yemen's republican army.

About the only group not consulted was Imam Mohammed and his royalists, whose grip on Yemen has dwindled from half the country to the mountain spine in central Yemen. Some 25,000 armed supporters of the Imam are still in action and still dangerous, but they are increasingly isolated, and short of fuel and weapons. With the royalists cut off from Saudi supplies, Nasser may well be able gradually to consolidate his gains, cut down on his commitments, and ultimately complete his victory by admitting republican Yemen into his grandiose scheme for a new United Arab Republic.