Yemen looks to turn improved ties into revival of Saudi aid
Yemen is hoping to revive aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars from its wealthy neighbor Saudi Arabia at a meeting of their coordination council on Monday, the first in more than a decade. The meeting in Mecca will "study the renewal of Saudi financial aid to Yemen's budget," said Hisham Sharaf, undersecretary at Yemen's ministry of planning and development.
Yemen, whose ties with the oil-rich kingdom have been on the mend over the past five years, paid a heavy price for its political support of Baghdad during the 1990-1991 Gulf crisis sparked by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Between 1971 and 1987, Yemen, one of the world's poorest countries, received a total of three billion dollars from Saudi Arabia, half of it going to the annual state budget.
The Saudi market used to employ 1.2 million Yemenis, but 800,000 of them were expelled during the Gulf crisis. Remittances from Yemeni workers in the Gulf fell to $227 million, from $1.5 billion in 1990, official figures show. Unemployment at home soared and is running at 25 percent, according to official figures, while independent sources give a higher figure of 35 percent.
The coordination council, holding its first meeting since 1987, will examine "the means to grant facilities to Yemeni expatriates to allow them to find jobs and reside in Saudi Arabia," Sharaf said in a newspaper interview.
A June 12 border accord cleared the way for the meeting. The accord will allow the two countries to cooperate in several areas, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz said at the time. "The border agreement will open large areas for economic cooperation, particularly in the domain of investments, and will contribute to further coordination on security matters," Prince Nayef said. The accord signed in the Saudi city of Jeddah put an end to a border dispute spanning several decades.
Sheikh Nayef said there would be opportunities for joint investment projects in the border areas and called on Saudi businesses to employ Yemeni manual labor, but he denied the agreement itself dealt with the issue of Yemeni workers.
Sharaf said Yemen is sending a 12-member government delegation led by Prime Minister Abdul Karim al-Iriyani to the Mecca meeting in a bid to secure agreement on several projects to be financed by Saudi Arabia.
He listed the development of Sanaa airport, a highway between the capital and the port city of Aden, another between Aden and Hadramaut, a 400-megawatt power station, and upgrading Yemen's entire electricity network.
"The two parties will examine nine projects of bilateral agreement concerning investments, the levying of taxes, customs cooperation, economic exchanges and aerial and ground transport routes," said Sharif. He said the Yemeni government was also seeking a "settlement" to Sanaa's debt to Riyadh, estimated at $600 million. — (AFP, Sanaa)
by Hamoud Mounassar
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)