The Saudi–Yemen barrier is a physical barrier constructed by Saudi Arabia along part of its 1,800-kilometer (1,100 mi) border with Yemen. It is a structure made of pipeline three metres (10 ft) high, filled with concrete and supported on posts. and fitted with electronic detection equipment.
When construction of the 75-kilometer (47 mi) barrier began in September 2003, a fierce dispute with the Yemeni government erupted. Construction was halted in February 2004 when Saudi Arabia agreed to stop building the barrier after Yemen said the fence violated a border treaty signed in 2000.
To date the reinforced, concrete-filled pipeline currently acts as a security barrier along sections of the now fully demarcated border with Yemen.
History and stated purpose
Since the early 1990s perpetrators of terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia have used explosives which originate from Yemen. Saudi Arabia claims a barrier is a necessary tool in protecting the kingdom from terrorism, preventing the smuggling of illegal weapons and to stem the flow of contraband—including Yemen’s most important unofficial export, qat. Illegal in Saudi Arabia, qat is a valuable source of income for Yemen's border tribes, thought to earn them more than £100 million a year. After more than 65 years of sporadic conflict, Yemen and Saudi Arabia finally agreed on where the border lay culminating in the 2000 Jeddah border treaty, and began marking it with concrete posts.
Saudi Arabia claimed that smugglers provide the weapons used by radical Islamists who operate inside the kingdom and are the source of the explosives used in attacks against civilian targets, such as the 2003 Riyadh compound bombings which killed 35 and injured over a hundred. There was a strong lack of trust in the Yemeni authorities' ability to arrest infiltrators before they make it into Saudi territory, however a senior Yemeni official claimed that smugglers were using "smart donkeys" which can not only find their way across unaccompanied but can also recognise the uniform of Saudi border guards and avoid them.
In 2008, after starting a new section of barrier in Harad district, the Saudis declared that the barrier was necessary for protecting their borders against an influx of illegal immigrants and against the smuggling of drugs and weapons. It is believed that thousands of Africans enter Saudi Arabia every day. Of the numerous Somali and Ethiopian refugees that arrive on Yemen's shores, those who make their way to Saudi Arabia travel through the Harad district. Since in Yemen employment prospects are low for migrants, most head to Saudi Arabia or other Gulf states, where the need for menial labor is much greater. In addition to Somalis and Ethiopians, hundreds of Yemeni children have been trafficked through this area in the past decade. In 2007 alone, more than 60,000 Yemenis were deported from Saudi Arabia due to illegal immigration claims.
Opinions on the barrier
Opponents claim the barrier severely restricts the local population, particularly in their ability to travel freely over the border and to access work, thereby undermining their economy. The Yemeni government initially opposed the construction which they said violated the 2000 Jeddah border treaty, which provided grazing rights for shepherds in a 13-mile (21 km) buffer zone on both sides of the frontier and stipulated that no armed forces be stationed within it. The first 42-kilometer (26 mi) stretch of the barrier was erected less than 100 metres from the border line. At the time, the head of Saudi Arabia's border guard maintained that the barrier was being constructed inside Saudi territory.
In the past, many Yemenis complained that Saudi Arabia’s support for various tribal and political figures in Yemen seemed aimed at keeping their southern neighbor divided and weak. Now, as Yemen’s instability and the threat of terrorism grow worse, Saudi Arabia appears to be reassessing its approach to Yemen and its longtime president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, diplomats say. “They are trying to be more systematic,” said a Western diplomat in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. “Their manipulations are now aimed at supporting Saleh, because he’s the only game in town.” according to the New York times in 2010 Saudi Arabia spend billions of dollars every year to weaken Yemen's central rule and cripple its republican form of government
The Yemen portfolio was long formally managed by Crown Prince Sultan, who is also deputy prime minister and minister of defence. For decades, he handled payments to his network of contacts and informers in Yemen, generating resentment in many quarters in the country about perceived Saudi "meddling". The Special Office for Yemen Affairs, a small intra-family committee established and headed by Sultan, remained the main locus of Yemen policy and patronage throughout the 1980s and 1990s, a role that was attenuated from 2000. Its annual budget was believed to be $3.5 billion per year until then, but was reduced following that year’s border agreement.
In early 2011, the number of people thought to be receiving subsidies still remained in the thousands. The tribal elites Saudi Arabia finance to weaken Yemen central government are behind the drug trade. Yemen has argued that Saudi Arabia has overreached by accusing Yemeni smugglers of fomenting terrorism; after all, homegrown Saudi terrorists with or without weapons obtained from across the border cannot be blamed on Yemen as most Islamist terrorist are Saudis or following an ideology that is sponsored by the Saudi state.
Comparison to Israeli West Bank barrier
In February 2004 The Guardian reported that Yemeni opposition newspapers likened the barrier to the Israeli West Bank barrier, while The Independent headed an article with "Saudi Arabia, one of the most vocal critics in the Arab world of Israel's "security fence" in the West Bank, is quietly emulating the Israeli example by erecting a barrier along its porous border with Yemen".
Head of Saudi Arabia's border guard, Talal Anqawi, dismissed comparisons with Israel's West Bank barrier: "The barrier of pipes and concrete could in no way be called a separation fence. What is being constructed inside our borders with Yemen is a sort of screen...which aims to prevent infiltration and smuggling", he said. "It does not resemble a wall in any way." However, only 3% of the length of the West Bank Security Fence consists of wall.
The fundamental difference between the Saudi and West Bank barriers remains the location of the former entirely within Saudi terrirtory recognised by Yemen and international community as opposed to location of the Israel's West Bank barrier in Israeli-occupied territories.
In February 2004 after extensive Egyptian and U.S. diplomatic efforts Saudi Arabia decided to halt the construction of a barrier. Yemen agreed that the two sides would conduct joint patrols and set up security watch towers along the frontier to curb cross-border smuggling and infiltration. However, it was reported in October 2006, after plans were revealed of Saudi plans to build another fence along its border with Iraq that the Saudis have enjoyed "relative success by building a similar, though shorter, security barrier-fence along their southern border with Yemen to cut down on the 400,000 illegal immigrants who cross it every year looking for work in the far more prosperous Saudi state. That fence, Saudi security authorities also believe, has made their efforts to prevent the infiltration of revolutionary Islamists through Yemen far easier." In February 2007 the Arab Times reported that the “Saudis have been quietly pursuing an $8.5 billion project to fence off the full length of its porous border with Yemen for some years”.
In January 2008, Saudi authorities commenced construction of a wall along the border in the Harad district. A local sheikh claimed that erection of the wall broke a Yemeni-Saudi treaty declaring the rights of both Yemeni and Saudi citizens to roam freely across the political border due to their need to cultivate crops and allow their animals to graze. The Marebpress website reported a Yemeni military source as saying that Yemeni border guards tried to prevent the construction, but the Saudis mobilized their military and threatened force if they were unable to commence work on the barriers. Deep tunnels and concrete arches have been constructed and barbed wire has been laid along the frontiers to the south of the Saudi towns of Towal, Masfaq and Khawjarah.
Local sources from Harad stated that over 3,000 tribesmen from nearby villages gathered to rally against it, claiming their interests would be harmed by preventing them from crossing to the other side of the border to visit their relatives and cultivate their farms.
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