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Tensions Rise as Yemen Anticipates International Conference

  • Heather Murdock

Tribal leaders from Yemen, prominent sheiks, and members of Yemen's parliament gathered Tuesday to stress their opposition to any foreign military intervention in the country.

Tribal leaders from Yemen, prominent sheiks, and members of Yemen's parliament gathered Tuesday to stress their opposition to any foreign military intervention in the country. The meeting, which was not attended by representatives of the Western-supported Yemeni government, came on the eve of an international conference on Yemen, that is opening in London.

As Western leaders prepared to meet in London to consider ways to deal with the threat from al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula, Yemeni leaders would like to make one thing clear: Foreign troops are not welcome on Yemeni soil.

Sheik Sadiq al-Ahmar, the president of the Yemeni parliament and the leader of the tribal chiefs spoke to a room of about 500 people who burst into applause when he announced that Yemen would reject any kind of military intervention.

Al-Ahmar is one of many leaders in Yemen who has publicly warned the West to stay out of Yemen. Another prominent sheik in attendance at the conference, Abdul Majid al-Zindani, told supporters and journalists in early January that if Western troops landed in Yemen, they would face what he called, "global jihad."

Yemeni government officials, who have also said they will not accept Western intervention, did not attend the conference. In recent weeks, officials have emphasized Yemen's need for international financial support. The meeting on Yemen in London, according to state-run media, will emphasize "economic, social, political and security issues."

But it is often tribal leaders and prominent sheiks like Zindani, who command public opinion in Yemen. Even though no foreign nation has said it would send troops to Yemen, as the conference approaches the fear of foreign intervention grows. Yemeni leaders say they will accept international financial support if it is offered. But Al-Ahmar says aid pledged by the international community, is often not delivered, misdirected or sidetracked by government corruption.

The U.S. has called Zindani a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist," and accused him of funneling funds into terrorist organizations. But he is a powerful figure here in Yemen, and many locals think the charges are absurd. He is the head of prominent University, and a respected scholar.

Abdulreni al-Mowray, a Yemeni journalist who specializes in al-Qaida, says foreign military intervention in Yemen would be a disaster.

In the countryside he says, al-Qaida members hide out in villages with people who neither know, nor care about their political affiliations. For many rural Yemenis, he says, protecting travelers in danger is considered the duty of every Arab. The only way to crush al-Qaida insurgents would be to bomb the entire countryside.

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