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Fighting Continues in South Yemen; Cease-Fire Talks Reported

January 16, 1986

SAN’A, North Yemen (AP) _ Troops and armed tribal warriors loyal to rival factions of South Yemen’s Marxist government battled throughout the country Thursday according to radio and diplomatic reports, and one source said the nation seemed headed toward full-fledged civil war.

The warring groups agreed to meet in the Soviet Embassy in South Yemen’s capital, Aden, to negotiate a cease-fire, but the outcome of the talks was not known, according to sources based in North Yemen who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The two sides are using tanks, artillery and jets in what appears to be escalating into a full-scale civil war,” said one diplomatic source in San’a who is in close contact with South Yemeni developments.

The Soviet Union has a heavy stake in South Yemen, its closest ally on the Arabian Peninsula. The Soviets maintain important naval bases in the impoverished country and can station up to 18,000 troops there under a friendship and cooperation treaty signed in 1979.

Diplomatic sources here said they had no indication whether the Soviets were actively involved in the fighting on either side.

The sources said hardline Marxists who tried to topple President Ali Nasser Mohammed in a coup Monday rushed to Aden to join the fighting and prevent the complete defeat of their forces. The rebels apparently oppose the president’s reported desire to improve relations with pro-Western Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Oman and liberalize the economy.

One Western diplomat in North Yemen reached by telephone from Bahrain, said “the rebels appear to have been reinforced, the army, navy and air force in addition to militia units were possibly split and reversing allegiances.”

While the navy appeared to remain loyal to Mohammed, the army and the air force split, so that both factions have use of tanks and planes, other sources said.

Thundering blasts were heard and palls of black smoke were sighted at the Aden port and near the international airport, said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The sources also said that the fighting has spread from Aden to all of South Yemen’s six provinces. Two men who reportedly led the coup attempt, former President Abdul Fattah Ismail and Presidium Vice Chairman Ali Antar, have strong tribal support.

Fighting has been reported in Lahaj, just outside Aden in the desert lowland, and in the rugged volcanic mountain regions of Dhali near the North Yemen border.

Heavily armed tribesmen live in the mountain regions. The confusion of tribal affiliations and allegiances could make a return to peace difficult once fighting begins in the provinces, said one Arab source in North Yemen who is familiar with the customs and habits of the tribes.

Maritime shipping sources in the Persian Gulf states of Bahrain and Dubai, claiming to be in constant wireless contact with Aden, reported a marked escalation in fighting Thursday. They said tribal warriors and army columns were marching on the capital from eastern and northern regions, but it was unclear which side they supported.

Reports on the week’s fighting have often been contradictory, confused and impossible to independently confirm.

“The situation in Aden remains ambiguous,” said one diplomat in North Yemen. “It is difficult to say with any degree of certaintly who is winning or who is losing. But what is certain is the tribes are up in arms in at least two regions outside Aden in support of the rebels.”

State-run Aden radio has been off the air since shortly after it announced Monday that Mohammed escaped an assassination attempt.”

It also said that four conspirators were executed for masterminding the coup attempt, including former President Abdul-Fattah Ismail, and Ali Antar, vice chairman of the Presidium.

A rebel radio station operating in the Lahaj region north of Aden had claimed that Ismail was alive.

There was no independent confirmation of reports that Mohammed appeared on television Wednesday to appeal for calm. Earlier reports said the president had been seriously injured, and there were rumors he had died.

In Moscow, the official news agency, Tass, said three South Yemeni officials - Prime MInister Heidar Abu Bakr al-Attas, Foreign Minister Abdul Aziz Abdo al-Dali and Trade Minister Ahmed Ubayd al-Fadli - arrived in Moscow.

No reasons were given for the visit and the brief announcement gave no indication how long the officials would stay in Moscow.

The Abu Dhabi newspaper Al-Ittihad quoted Soviet Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Govorov as saying his country was not involved in the fighting. Govorov, who was visiting Kuwait, told the paper that “the policy of the U.S.S.R. is based on non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries.

In Abu Dhabi, one of the Persian Gulf states comprising the United Arab Emirates, the Interior Ministry said a blast rocked an office buiding Thursday, shattering windows of a tourist bureau that represent the Syrian and South Yemeni airlines. There was no immediate information on whether the blast was linked to the fighting.

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