Middle East: The Mess in Yemen

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The nasty little war in Yemen, one year old this month, is dragging on in grand disregard for the peace-seeking efforts of the U.N. Neither Egypt nor Saudi Arabia has honored its pledge, which both made earlier this year under U.S. mediation pressure, to disengage simultaneously from Yemen. Although Nasser has sent home six shiploads of troops, he has rotated in fresh detach ments, and at least 20,000 Egyptian soldiers are still in Yemen propping up the republican regime of President Ab dullah Sallal. All the while, money and munitions from the monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Jordan still pour across the 25-mile-wide buffer zone to royalist tribesmen supporting dethroned Imam Mohamed el Badr. So far as the actual fighting is concerned, it is still a stand off, with the republicans controlling the cities and the plains, and the royalists holed up in — and defending — key strong points in the central mountains.

Short Rations. It is all very frustrat ing for the 200-man U.N. team, which was rushed to the scene from the Gaza Strip two months ago in an effort to stop the shooting. The unit, made up mostly of Yugoslav soldiers and Cana dian airmen, was far too small to police the vast, empty Yemen frontier, and from the start it was plagued by bad breaks and hostility from local authori ties. The team's first commander. Swedish Major General Carl von Horn, had hardly set up headquarters in the mud-walled capital of San'a when his horse, being led down a dusty street, kicked a Yemeni government official, resulting in the arrest of both groom and horse. U.N. planes are regularly fired on (none has been downed so far), and last month a Russian-made Egyptian Ilyushin jet bomber attacking Najran inside Saudi Arabia nearly scored a direct hit on a U.N. platoon. Getting into the act, the Russians have sent in at least 900 workmen and technicians, who are constructing a new jet airport north of San'a. Recently, the Russians threw an inquiring U.N. inspector off the premises when he approached the airport to conduct a routine inspection. Apart from such harassment, the U.N. teams found it downright dangerous to travel around the country.

All in all. admitted U.N. Secretary-General U Thant, in effect, the U.N.-sanctioned project has been a flop. And for him it has been a rather messy flop, for in the past three weeks he and Von Horn have had an ugly exchange of recriminations. The prestigious but stormy Von Horn, first U.N. chief in the Congo and for five years head of the U.N.'s Palestine peace-keeping force, suddenly resigned in a cable to Thant, charging lack of sufficient logistic support, aircraft and even rations. Thant branded Von Horn's charges "irresponsible and reckless," announced last week that the mission would continue, thanks to "oral assurances" by Egypt and Saudi Arabia that they would continue splitting the bill ($200,000 per month) for another two months.

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