HL Deb 07 May 1934 vol 92 cc62-4

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Lamington, who is unable to be present, I desire to put the starred Question of which he has given Notice.

[The question was as follows:—To ask His Majesty's Government to give the latest information as regards the present situation of affairs in connection with the Yemen and Saudi Arabia.]


My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships for again having to address the House to-night, but I promise I shall be brief. The immediate cause of the present hostilities between King Ibn Saud and the Imam of the Yemen appears to have been a breakdown of a conference between Saudi and Yemeni delegates which met in the middle of February at Abha in Asir. Asir is a small country bordering on the Red Sea, and it is a little further from Jeddah than it is from Hodeida, the position of which your Lordships have no doubt seen given in the Press. The aim of the conference was to reach agreement on a number of questions between the two countries, principally the definition of the frontier between Saudi Arabia and the Yemen, the rival claims of the two parties to the ill-defined region of Nejran, which lies between Saudi Arabia and the Yemen in the hinterland on the edge of the Great-Ruba-al-Khali district, and the future of the Idrisi family, the former rulers of Asir, who had sought refuge in the Yemen after an unsuccessful rebellion in 1932–33.

His Majesty's Government have no account of the proceedings of the Abha Conference. It is believed, however, that a considerable measure of preliminary agreement was reached on all points except as regards the future of Nejran. According to the Saudi Government, after the opening of the Conference the Imam sent a nephew of the former ruler of Asir with Yemeni forces to invade and occupy certain mountainous districts, which King Ibn Saud claims as part of his dominions, to the north-west of Saada. On account of this invasion King Ibn Saud gave, on or about March 20, orders for an advance of the Saudi forces. This was the beginning of the present campaign. The Saudi advance has met with overwhelming success more particularly in the coastal plain of the Yemen. According to the latest information, the military position is that the Saudi forces have driven the Yemeni troops out of the disputed region of Nejran, have taken the Yemeni ports of Medi and Loheia, and, on May 5, occupied the principal Yemeni port of Hodeida, which the Yemeni military and civil authorities appear to have evacuated on or about May 1.

The Imam claims that the rapidity of the Saudi advance is due to the voluntary evacuation of the districts in question by his troops. He states that he has ordered this retreat in order to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, and in the hope that the mediation of friendly Powers will persuade King Ibn Saud to discontinue hostilities. His Majesty's Government have no confirmation of the reports which have appeared in the Press regarding the revolt in Sanaa and the possible death of the Imam. Throughout the period of hostilities King Ibn Saud appears to have been in telegraphic correspondence with the Imam and to have offered conditions of peace. The points on which he was understood to be demanding satisfaction were the evacuation of the invaded mountain districts, the release of Saudi hostages held by the Imam, and the surrender of the Idrisi family. He also advanced certain proposals for the par tition of Nejran. The Imam accepted these demands in principle, but apparently at the time qualified his acceptance in detail and King Ibn Saud refused to suspend hostilities until the Imam's acceptance of his conditions had been given satisfactory effect. According to reports of which, however, His Majesty's Government have no confirmation, the success of Saudi campaign has led King Ibn Saud to demand more severe terms.

His Majesty's Government have observed a strict neutrality towards this conflict, taking only those measures which have proved necessary in order to safeguard the lives and property of British subjects and protected persons in the area affected by the hostilities. In particular, they have felt bound to take steps for the protection of the British community at the Port of Hodeida during the interval between the disappearance of Yemeni authority in that town and the arrival of the Saudi troops, more especially as reports were received that unruly tribesmen from neighbouring districts were surrounding the town in the hope of loot. The British community at Hodeida consist mainly of some 300 British Indians. The Saudi Government have now announced that they will assume full responsibility for the administration of districts which have been or may be occupied by Saudi forces, and that they will be responsible for the security of foreigners in those districts.