§ 3.34 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE FOR COLONIAL AFFAIRS (THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE)
My Lords, it may be for the convenience of your Lordships if I now make a statement on the situation on the frontier between the South Arabian Federation and the Yemen. You may remember that on February 24 19, last week, my noble friend the Duke of Devonshire promised further information when available. A statement is being made in the same terms by my honourable friend in another place:
The High Commissioner for Aden reported three days ago that the Yemeni force had been strengthened and was believed to number about 300 soldiers and tribesmen armed with mortars and machine-guns. Her Majesty's Government were asked by the Federal authorities to assist them, in accordance with our Treaty obligations, to resist this armed trespass on Federal territory. We were fully conscious of these treaty obligations, and moreover we could not allow Federal territory to be used by one side in the Yemeni civil war as a springboard for an attack upon the other side. This would have been entirely contrary to our declared policy of non-involvement.
To give the Yemeni authorities ample opportunity to withdraw their force without the need for further measures, arrangements were made for a message to be conveyed to the Republican authorities in Sana by the representatives of a friendly Power. It was our hope that orders would be given to the Yemeni force to withdraw across the frontier, along the way they had come.
The broadcast by the Republican authorities in Sana on February 20 showed that they were aware of my noble friend's statement in your Lordships' House on the 19th and that they intended to take no action. Their reinforcement of the intruding party during the following days could therefore only be interpreted as a deliberate challenge.
In the absence of any indication that the Yemenis would move of their own accord, the High Commissioner was authorised to issue a local warning to the intruding force and this was delivered in the form of leaflets at twelve minutes past 8 o'clock local time this morning—that is, 5 o'clock this morning. The warning contained an assurance that if the Yemenis left their positions and withdrew from Federal territory, they would not be attacked, but that if they ignored the warning then all necessary measures would be taken to eject them by force.
Members of the Yemeni force were seen to read the warning leaflets. Precisely three hours later, when the 25 ultimatum set in the leaflet expired with no indication of any intention to withdraw, fire was opened upon the Yemeni positions by artillery. At half-past eleven a defiant message was received from the local Yemeni commander claiming that his force was within Yemeni territory. Artillery fire ceased at 11.40 and armoured cars of the Federal regular army moved forward to reconnoitre.
The High Commissioner has just told us that his latest reports tend to indicate that the Yemeni force has in the main withdrawn from the bed of the valley which they were occupying in Federal territory.
§ EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I am glad to have heard the message which is being given in another place. The situation does not seem to be very dangerous at the moment, but no doubt the noble Marquess will keep your Lordships in close touch with events as they go along.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Yes, my Lords. If there is any further information which your Lordships should have I will see that you receive it.
My Lords, could the noble Marquess say whether, if further information comes in to-day, the House will have that information at once?
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, it is just conceivable that we might receive further information about the indications of withdrawal. If it is possible for me to convey this information, if we receive it, I will of course see that your Lordships have it as soon as possible, but I would prefer, for convenience' sake, if this could be to-morrow.
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
My Lords, would the noble Earl say whether or not there have been any casualties on either side?