London, Asharq Al-Awsat – The British Foreign Office asserted yesterday that the London conference due to be held tomorrow at a foreign ministers’ level is not intended to gather financial pledges for Yemen, but is aimed at garnering a broader international consensus to offer support for Yemen. It will focus on the best ways for coordinating international efforts for backing the Yemeni Government in its efforts to deal with the social, economic, and political problems which are the cause of instability. A high-level Yemeni delegation led by Prime Minister Ali Mujawwar is expected to participate in it.
Foreign Office Spokesman Barry Marston told Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday that in recent weeks interests have focused on the security challenge of Al-Qaeda’s threats from Yemen, but the vision behind the idea of the London conference is that Al-Qaeda issue in addition to that of the insurgency in Saada and the troubles in the south are symptoms of a deeper problem, namely the economic problems and inequities that are the result of an unemployment exceeding 40 percent of the manpower and the 70 percent dependence on revenues from oil which will be depleted after years and also the problem of water scarcity. He said this has created a situation where the government cannot offer basic services in some areas, adding that some roots of the demands for the secession of the south are more economic than the inability to coexist in one state and the Saada problem is more about marginalization than sectarianism.
He went on to say that the meeting is not a conference of donors because such a conference was held at a British invitation too in London in 2006 and made pledges of $5 billion to help Yemen and a large part of these pledges was not spent because Yemen did not have the ability to absorb these funds in projects from which the ordinary Yemeni citizen benefits. Marston told Asharq Al-Awsat that the London conference would discuss why these pledges of 2006 were not spent and also a Yemeni Government-led long-term plan for reforms to make the regime more effective.
Regarding the dangers of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, the British Foreign Office spokesman said this is an important issue but there would be no problem of a vacuum in some areas which Al-Qaeda exploits and tackling the problem of extremism would be more effective if there was an effective government in control of all areas and responsive to the security challenges. He stressed that the issue of sending foreign troops to Yemen would not be on the table as this would make the situation more complicated and since the aim is to strengthen the Yemeni regime to confront the challenges it is facing.
Regarding the Yemeni Government’s view that the southern move and Huthist insurgency are local issues, Marston said they are local issues to be solved by Yemen with regional support and pointed out that these issues are not solved by violence on both sides and need all the parties to deal with them. London considers the challenges facing Yemen massive ones, its economic future bleak, and the dangers associated with change are big ones but the consequences of not taking any measure are greater than them. It also reckons that “a lesson has been learnt from the conflict and the post-conflict intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan and we understand their costs fully. Hence Yemen – which is going at present through the pre-conflict phase and its situations are fragile – represents an opportunity for taking an early decision, preventing the state from collapsing, and eliminating the need for the costly intervention later on. The measure cannot be taken by one country alone but we must all cooperate closely with the international partners and various parties to bring about a positive change in Yemen and support the democratically-elected Yemeni Government so as to establish this change.”
According to the British vision, the exacerbating conditions of instability, terrorist activity, and poverty will have a damaging impact on security, both in Yemen and the region. There is a limited opportunity for dealing with the deterioration in Yemen’s situations and the donor countries, including the EU, the United States, and the Gulf countries, need to coordinate their efforts now and back President Saleh and the Yemeni Government to carry out the reforms. We also need to support stability immediately by helping the state to provide its citizens with the basic services and job opportunities.
According to London’s vision which is included in a preliminary paper on the London conference, the solution for Yemen’s problems is basically an economic one. There is real inequity which the Yemeni Government must deal with and this is represented by the lack of job opportunities, the lack of government services, the corruption, and the disputes over lands. The danger is that terrorism and other security problems would exacerbate if no measures were taken quickly.