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S. Yemen Fighting Continues; Trapped Foreigners' Supplies Dwindling

January 22, 1986|MICHAEL ROSS | Times Staff Writer

DJIBOUTI — Fighting continued Tuesday between rival Marxist factions in the South Yemeni capital of Aden, thwarting several attempts by British ships to evacuate hundreds of foreigners trapped without water or electricity, according to reports reaching Djibouti.

An appeal for help, radioed to Djibouti by a United Nations official in Aden, said that electricity, water and telephone lines had all been cut and that the foreigners' supplies of food and bottled water would last only another two days, according to U.N. sources who received the message Monday night.

Thousands Believed Killed

The nine days of fighting between forces loyal to President Ali Nasser Hasani and those supporting a loose coalition of hard-line Marxists trying to topple him is believed to have claimed thousands of lives. Arab press reports have spoken of as many as 14,000 dead, although the figure cannot be verified.

Communications with South Yemen are still cut, and the military and political situation there remains "highly confused," a Western diplomat said.

The diplomat said the fighting seems "to have run into a stalemate, with each side holding on to a section of the city and shelling the other."

The fighting between rival factions of the army, navy, air force and political party militias appears to be concentrated in the Aden area.

Forces loyal to Hasani were said to be in control of the Crater, an old section of Aden surrounded by the rim of an extinct volcano, and the territory extending east and northeast of Aden as far as the border with Yemen.

Under Rebel Control

Rebel forces allied with former head of state Abdul-Fattah Ismail or with First Deputy Prime Minister Ali Ahmed Antar, the reported leaders of the effort to topple Hasani, controlled other parts of the city and territory extending west, including the port and Little Aden, the site of a large oil refinery near the capital.

According to diplomats in Sana, the capital of Yemen, Hasani and many of his followers were in Abyan, his home province about 100 miles east of Aden, and he was believed to have received arms from Marxist-ruled Ethiopia during a visit there last week.

Ismail, a hard-line Marxist who was deposed as strongman in a power struggle with Hasani in 1980, returned to Aden last fall after five years of exile in Moscow. He and Antar are believed to oppose Hasani in part because Hasani has been trying to improve relations with Saudi Arabia, Oman and other more conservative Arab states in the region.

A British engineer who was among 209 evacuees arriving here in this East Africa republic aboard a British warship Monday said the rebels had advanced southward through the city, capturing a key causeway, and were pressing in upon the old sector in what appeared to be an attempt to cut the defenders off from other units of Hasani's forces east of Aden.

Observed by Japanese

This account was supported by eyewitness reports from officers and crewmen aboard the Sanko Daffodil, a Japanese merchant ship that arrived in Djibouti from South Yemen on Tuesday morning.

The Sanko Daffodil was one of several merchant ships caught in a heavy crossfire between army and naval units in the port of Aden when fighting broke out Jan. 13. The ship, its superstructure and starboard side peppered with holes from heavy machine-gun fire, got away the next day and anchored offshore, awaiting the opportunity to return 45 South Yemeni stevedores who were on board when the fighting started.

The ship finally put the Yemenis ashore Monday morning at Little Aden, where its radio officer reported that the oil refinery and the port were in rebel hands. The officer added that as they were leaving South Yemen on Monday afternoon, they saw the Crater district of the capital coming under heavy artillery fire from rebel positions.

Queen's Personal Yacht

The heavy fighting thwarted several attempts Tuesday by the British ship Britannia, Queen Elizabeth II's personal yacht, to evacuate several hundred foreigners still trapped in South Yemen.

The Britannia, in the region when the fighting broke out, evacuated hundreds of foreigners in the early days of the conflict and was to have carried out about 600 more from Little Aden on Monday under the terms of an agreement worked out with the rebel forces controlling the area, diplomatic sources said.

However, most of the foreigners were unable to reach the evacuation site, and the Britannia was able to pick up only 15 people Tuesday, the sources added.

The Britannia then steamed toward an alternate evacuation site at Khormaksar, near the Soviet Embassy in the northeastern part of Aden, where about 250 foreigners are reported to have taken refuge. However, fighting in that area also prevented the evacuees from reaching the beach.

'Pinned Down by Fire'

The Britannia's commander, Rear Adm. John Garnier, said in a telephone interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. that the Soviet Embassy was "pinned down by rifle fire while we were talking to them" and that fighting was "still going on" around the Khormaksar beach front, about two blocks from the embassy.

Other foreigners were said to be stranded in Hiswa, an area between Aden and Little Aden, and unable to reach either evacuation site because of fighting both to the east and the west of them.

With the arrival Tuesday afternoon of a Soviet freighter bringing about 300 Soviet citizens from Mukalla, in the far eastern part of South Yemen, the number of evacuees brought out by Soviet and British ships so far is almost 5,000. Between 500 and 1,000 more are believed to be seeking a way out, although many of them are scattered in remote regions of the country from which it will be difficult, if not impossible, to reach the coast, diplomatic sources said.

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