Warrior Tribes May Be Entering Fray With PM-South Yemen, Bjt
TA’IZZ, North Yemen (AP) _ The Jebail, the fierce mountain tribesmen of North and South Yemen, have a reputation of loving nothing more than a fight.
Last week’s outbreak of hostilities between rival factions of the ruling pro-Soviet Marxists in South Yemen apparently has given them a chance to return to the fray.
Reports reaching this North Yemeni town from across the border say the South Yemeni Jebail swarmed from their mountain strongholds as soon as fighting began Jan. 13 in Aden, South Yemen’s capital.
Arab and Western diplomats, all of whom demanded anonymity before speaking, said some tribesmen apparently supported President Ali Nasser Mohammed while others sided with hard-liners allied with former President Abdul-Fattah Ismail.
Because Ismail comes from a North Yemeni tribe, residents here expressed fear that Jebail from North Yemen may join the fray and drag their state into what has so far remained a South Yemeni conflict.
However, there are no signs of war preparations in Ta’izz or nearby areas.
The diplomats and other knowledgeable sources say heavy tribal involvement could force the Soviet Union to intervene, not only to support the Arab world’s only Marxist state but to protect its military installations in South Yemen.
One Arab diplomat said ″an Afghanistan-like″ situation could result for the Soviets, adding, ″The tribal warriors have all sorts of affiliations and, with the central government in disarray, there is truly no telling what might happen.″
The bearded, turbaned tribesmen dress mostly in colorful, ankle-length robes and are seldom without a rifle and a curved dagger. They have been involved in numerous battles and skirmishes on both sides of the border in the past 25 years.
The British never subdued the tribal sheikdoms despite long involvement in South Yemen. Although the two Yemens have seldom been governed by a single ruler over the centuries, the current division can be traced to 1839 when Britain established itself in the south and formed a protectorate around the port of Aden. South Yemen gained independent from Britain in 1967.
Together, the Yemens formed the ancient land of Sheba, according to local traditions. The Queen of Sheba’s famous visit to King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. is recounted in the Bible.
In assessing the potential tribal problem, the diplomats expressed concern that Saudi Arabia, which has often financed tribal uprisings in both Yemens, might support a tribal effort against a hard-line South Yemeni regime.
The exact numbers of tribesmen are not known, but the warrior clans can field thousands, launching forays at will from hideouts in rugged mountain terrain.
How the warrior tribes have lined up in the South Yemeni power struggle is not yet clear.
The Jebail traditionally respond first to tribal allegiances and second, to mercenary considerations.
Both Mohammed and leading members of the hard-line Marxist faction which opposes him come from mountain tribes.
Mohammed is likely to get the support of most of the Jebail, diplomats and other sources say.
The six main tribal sheikdoms absorbed into South Yemen in 1967 were restive under the harsh brand of socialism imposed under Ismail before Mohammed ousted him in a bloodless coup almost six years ago.
The tribes were believed comfortable with Mohammed’s more moderate style of Marxism, including recent efforts to liberalize the economy and to cultivate closer ties with South Yemen’s oil-rich Arab neighbors, the diplomats and observers say.
Mohammed, a member of the Hassaniya tribe, was able to rally tribesmen in South Yemen’s Beyhan district in the northeast during the 1960s liberation struggle against the British.
If Mohammed was forced to abandon Aden, this district could serve as both a refuge and a tactical base for him, the sources said.
Reports reaching North Yemen, however, indicated that Mohammed has shifted ground to Abyan province near the border village of Mukairis, about 75 miles northeast of Aden. This is part of the region where craggy mountains and deep valleys stretch hundreds of miles along the border.
Such a move, the diplomats said, could allow Mohammed to hold out for years.