Britain warns of 'massive dangers' if Yemen collapses

24th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain on Friday warned of "massive dangers" to world security should Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country and an increasing stronghold of Al-Qaeda, become a failed state.

"The underpinning issue (of help to Yemen) is the protection of the stability of the state overall and let's be honest: there are massive dangers to the country, the region and the wider world if ever Yemen becomes failed state," Alan Duncan, Britain's international development minister, said.

Duncan, who described "a very potent cocktail for danger," was speaking at a meeting at UN headquarters in New York of the Friends of Yemen -- an international support group for the country.

The Arabian Peninsula nation is suffering growing security and economic strains and faces a rising Al-Qaeda presence.

US authorities blame a plot to blow up a US-bound airliner on Christmas Day last year on the Yemen-based organization known as Al-Qaeda on the Arabian peninsula. The group also claimed the attack, which was foiled only when the alleged bomber's explosive failed to ignite properly.

Meanwhile, the central government in Sanaa is struggling to deal with rebels in the north, separatists in the south and an economy holed by declining oil reserves, the main revenue source.

"You have a country that's running out of oil, running out of water and running out of time," Duncan said.

According to the UN refugee agency, at least 4,000 civilians have fled fighting between government forces and militants in southern Yemen since last weekend.

Friends of Yemen said in a statement that it supported internal Yemeni attempts to resolve political tensions and promised to "provide additional support for social protection" to shield the country's poor from the side-effects of painful economic reforms.

Yemen's donors met in February to discuss disbursement of the rest of 5.7 billion dollars promised in 2006.

But Duncan said that three billion dollars of that sum remained unspent, "simply because the country has not been able to show the capacity to absorb the fund."

"We need to see proper improvement, otherwise none of these programs will have the desired effect," he said.

Yemeni forces have since last weekend been locked in a standoff with up to 100 alleged Al-Qaeda militants who officials say are holed up in the Shabwa province town of Huta.

In late August, government forces and alleged Al-Qaeda militants fought a pitched battle in the town of Loder in the southern province of Abyan.

At least 33 people were killed, including 19 militants, according to an AFP tally based on official and medical sources.

Protests and intermittent unrest have also rocked the south of Yemen, where there is a growing secessionist movement and many residents complain of discrimination by the Sanaa government.

Thousands of supporters of Yemen's Southern Movement, whose members want either increased autonomy or independence for the region, demonstrated in south Yemen on Thursday, local officials and witnesses said.

Yemeni authorities also face a sporadic Zaidi Shiite rebellion in the north.

Yemen is also the ancestral homeland of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

© 2010 AFP

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