Yemens Merge; Hope Rests on Oil Reserves

From Times Wire Services

Two countries on the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen and South Yemen, joined Tuesday to become one nation, the Republic of Yemen, an impoverished land sitting on newly discovered oil reserves.

Gen. Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of the unified state, raised the new country’s red, white and black flag at noon atop the Presidential Council building at port side.

The republic is poor but has recently located oil reserves unofficially put at 2 billion barrels. The nation is on the strategically located Bab al Mandab, a strait at the southern outlet of the Red Sea into the Indian Ocean.

Saleh said at a rally that the republic will honor all treaties either of the former countries signed.


About 2,000 people attended and interrupted Saleh’s address several times with loud applause.

“The Republic of Yemen will be a factor for stability and security in the Arabian Peninsula and the gulf (of Aden) region and a strong bastion for the Arab nations, the Arab League and joint Arab action,” Saleh said.

Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat was the only Arab leader who attended the ceremony. He delivered a brief congratulatory message.

In Washington, the United States on Tuesday welcomed the union of the Yemens, saying it will review the status of the new state on the U.S. list of terrorist nations.

The United States last month re-established diplomatic relations with South Yemen after a 30-year break. But South Yemen remained on the U.S. list of nations that sponsor terrorism.

Arab foreign ministers meeting in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad to prepare for an Arab summit hailed the unification. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal said it will improve “the stability of the region.”

The merger was approved Monday by the parliaments of the former countries. It was pushed through several days earlier than planned so the Yemenis could attend the Arab summit as one nation.

The new nation has 11 million people--9 million from the north and 2 million from the south--and is one of the poorest countries in the world.

South Yemen became the Arab world’s only Marxist state after it gained independence from Britain in 1967. Although it received aid from the Soviet Union, the south’s economy has languished for 20 years, and there has been widespread labor unrest in recent months. Some Arab diplomatic sources said the south endorsed unity mainly because of the democratic reforms sweeping Eastern Europe.

Scores of Cuban and East German military experts are said to have left the south in recent months. A friendship pact entitles the Soviets to maintain as many as 18,000 troops in South Yemen, but the extent of the actual deployment is unknown.

Sana will be the capital of the new state, with Aden the main commercial center. Sana was formerly the capital of the north and Aden the capital of the south.

Saleh was elected president of the five-man Presidential Council that will rule Yemen. The 48-year-old army officer, who has served as president of the north since 1978, was promoted from colonel to general on Monday by the north’s Parliament.

Ali Salem Bidh, the secretary general of the Socialist Party that ruled the south, was elected vice president.