HL Deb 30 May 1956 vol 197 cc584-6

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government if they will make a statement about the attack by the R.A.F. on three lorries carrying tribesmen alleged to be returning to Aden from Saudi Arabia as reported in The Times of May 26, 1956.]


My Lords, the Saudi Arabian statement referred to by The Times of May 26 apparently relates to an incident on May 20, when three large lorries carrying 119 Aden Protectorate subjects, who had absented themselves from the Protectorate without the authority of their Rulers, returned from a northerly direction carrying a number of small arms. The party was apprehended in the Arain area of the Eastern Aden Protectorate by the joint action of the Royal Air Force and the Hadhrami Bedouin Legion. The tribesmen were taken under escort to the Hadhrami Bedouin Legion Fort at Al Abr for interrogation. The small arms, which were brought into the Protectorate illegally, have been impounded.

The lorries appeared to be of Saudi civilian ownership with Saudi drivers and cleaners. They were not attacked or destroyed by the Roy al Air Force. On the contrary, orders were given by the Aden Protectorate authorities for the lorries and civilian drivers to be released, and they were free to return to Saudi Arabia forthwith. The drivers were warned to travel only on the authorised route in future.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his reply. Arising out of it, I should like to ask him whether he will make a statement about the report which appeared in The Times of May 28 under the heading "R.A.F. Open Fire on Tribesmen."


My Lords, I think there is some complication of these two incidents. The second one about which the noble Lord has just asked me arises from a report in The Times newspaper of May 28 that an R.A.F. Lincoln bomber had been searching a desert area in the Eastern Protectorate for sixty hostile tribesmen who were fired on by twelve Venom jet lighters on May 26 (that is, of course, after the incident which was referred to in the first Question), and had found traces of blood on the sand near Husn al Abr where the attack was made after the armed tribesmen had refused to surrender. The Governor of Aden has reported that this seems to be an exaggeration of the facts, which were as follows. On May 25 about sixty tribesmen of the Seiar tribe (belonging to the Aden Protectorate) were camped thirty-eight miles from Al Abr; they were returning from Sharura in Saudi Arabia, having been provided by the Saudi Government with arms and ammunition. Instructions were given that they should deposit the arms and give sureties for good behaviour. Negotiations to this end began on May 25 and continued until late on May 26, when they broke down on the tribesmen finally refusing to surrender their arms, and it became necessary to compel compliance with the orders.

To avoid casualties to our forces, the tribesmen were contained by the Hadhrami Bedouin Legion, and two strikes were made by two jet aircraft against the difficult position held by the tribesmen before darkness made further air action impossible. Contact with the tribesmen was lost during the night of May 26/27, and Hadhrami Bedouin Legion patrols on May 27 failed to renew contact, though traces of blood were found near the scene of the air attack. No casualties have been proved. The latest report indicates that a truce has been arranged, at the request of the headman of the Seiar tribe, to enable him to negotiate the surrender of the rifles.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply, but, arising out of it, I should like to ask the Government whether this strafing of a small band of sixty men by two jet fighters is not likely to make the people of the Aden Protectorates even more susceptible to anti-British propaganda coming from Egypt and Saudi Arabia?


I think it is absolutely necessary and vital at all times to uphold law and order in the Aden Protectorate. As the noble Lord probably knows, my noble friend Lord Lloyd, who has been on a visit to the Protectorate, will be back, I hope, next week, and I suggest that since he may have first-hand information the noble Lord might address another Question to him.


My Lords, do I understand that Her Majesty's Government have already made representations through the proper channels to the Saudi Arabian Government with regard to these incidents? It seems to me there is great provocation there. Have any representations been made?


I think I should require notice of that question. I am not at all certain of the answer.