Yemen: Harried Are the Peacemakers

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For ten days, Sweden's Major General Carl von Horn, 59, idled beside the crystal pool of Beirut's Hotel Phoenicia. Then marching orders came from the United Nations in New York: by a 10-0 vote, with the Soviet Union abstaining, the Security Council last week approved Secretary-General U Thant's plan to send a U.N. truce team to strife-torn Yemen.

Heading the advance guard, Von Horn took off for Yemen's capital city of San'a with the objective of 1) ending Saudi Arabian aid to the royalist rebels, 2) creating a 25-mile demilitarized strip along the Saudi-Yemeni frontier, and 3) supervising the phased withdrawal of 28,000 Egyptian troops who have spent the last eight months bloodily propping up the republican regime of President Abdullah Sallal against the royalist mountain tribes fighting to restore deposed Imam Mohamed el Badr to his 1,000-year-old throne.

Bombs at Night. A peacemaking veteran with years of experience in the Gaza Strip and the Congo, Von Horn is not sanguine about his chances in Yemen. On a brief visit in April, he discovered that royalist tribesmen had ambushed some 40 Egyptian soldiers, killed them all and stuffed their severed heads inside their slashed-open bellies. At the time, Von Horn gloomily concluded that the war could go on ten years. In New York, U Thant blandly expects it all to be over in "two to four months."

Holed up in the impregnable mountains of central Yemen, the royalists make hit-and-run raids in all directions, have sometimes infiltrated as close as the military airport outside San'a. The Egyptians have been on the defensive since February and make only local counterattacks to regain objectives, such as water sources, seized by the royalists. The offensive is left to Egypt's Russian-built fighter and bomber planes, which plaster royalist villages with high explosive and napalm. There were reports last week that the Egyptians are now using gas warfare to pry the rebels out of their mountain caves.

In the week before Von Horn's arrival, the desperate Egyptians made air strikes against Saudi Arabia. A dawn raid on the seaport of Jizan killed 25 and wounded 300 sleeping inhabitants. The Egyptian excuse: renewed royalist activity must mean renewed military aid from Saudi Arabia.

Nonexistent Ally. While his nation suffered, Yemen's President Sallal was on a triumphal tour of the Middle East. Though plagued by conspiracies at home—he crushed two "imperialist" plots in his own regime before leaving—Sallal got tremendous ovations from street crowds in Damascus and Baghdad. In lordly style, he urged the Baathist leaders of Syria and Iraq to disperse the "summer cloud" of their differences with Egypt's Nasser, and grandly offered the virtually nonexistent Yemen republican army as an ally in repulsing "Zionist and imperialist aggressors."

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