MOSCOW — The newspaper Pravda deplored Friday what it called the "sorrowful events" in South Yemen and called again for an immediate end to the fighting between government and insurgent forces there.
A commentary in the Soviet Communist Party's official organ said the fighting resulted from unspecified rivalries in the party and government leadership.
"These events cannot but cause deep regret," Pravda said, "especially considering that they are taking place in a friendly country headed by the Yemen Socialist Party."
Pravda blamed tribal disputes and the traditional diversity of the economy for triggering the conflict, along with the "subversive actions of foreign reactionary, imperialist forces."
For the first time, the Soviet public was told that the strife in Aden, the capital of South Yemen, has been so fierce that Soviet officials and other foreigners have been evacuated from the country.
Neutral Stand Sought
Still, Pravda sought to preserve Moscow's neutral stance, favoring neither the forces of the head of state, Ali Nasser Hasani, nor the rebels reportedly led by Abdul-Fattah Ismail, a former head of state and a hard-line Marxist.
Moscow has been put into an awkward position by the outbreak of fighting. South Yemen is the only Soviet ally on the Arabian Peninsula. The Kremlin has at different times supported leaders on both sides of the present conflict, and so far its efforts to arrange a truce have failed.
Some South Yemeni officials were in Moscow last week for consultations on the fighting, which erupted Jan. 13. They talked with Yegor K. Ligachev, the No. 2 man in the Politburo, and with Boris N. Ponomarev, a non-voting member of the Politburo who deals with Communist parties abroad.
In the recent past, Moscow appeared to support Hasani, who is considered a moderate Marxist and has been trying to develop closer ties with other Arab states in the region. But Ismail was in exile in Moscow from 1980 until last year, and he may have high-ranking supporters in the Kremlin.
Under the terms of a 20-year peace and friendship treaty signed in 1979, Moscow has a military base at Aden, and the Soviets are permitted to have up to 18,000 men under arms in South Yemen. When the fighting broke out, the Soviets reportedly had about 5,000 military and civilian advisers in the country.
A high-ranking Western diplomat here said that events in South Yemen could take what he called a nasty turn if the Soviets decide to support one of the factions involved in the fighting.
"I don't think they control the situation there," the diplomat said.
He asked to remain anonymous on grounds that it would allow him to speak with more candor. Referring to South Yemen as a "little bailiwick" of the Kremlin, he said, "I hope some people here (in Moscow) are asking questions about the benefits of empire."
In Washington, State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb said there are indications that Soviets in South Yemen are aiding the rebels.
'Statements in Moscow'
"There have been reports from refugees in Djibouti of Russians helping to direct (artillery) fire of the rebels or in unloading ammunition," Kalb said. "There have also been statements made in Moscow by several Yemeni leaders (that) appear to have been veering increasingly toward support of the coup leaders."
However, Kalb conceded that the U.S. government does not "have any real confirmation" of the refugee reports.
Kalb said that U.S. diplomats have advised Soviet officials to avoid direct intervention in the Yemeni crisis. Another State Department official said, however, that the issue was "touched on lightly" in discussions with Soviet diplomats. The official said, "I don't think there would have been any pressure."
Kalb said that the United States is vitally concerned about stability in the Arabian Peninsula. But he said that Washington has no favorites in the conflict between rival Marxist factions.
Times staff writer Norman Kempster, in Washington, contributed to this story.