HC Deb 09 April 1964 vol 692 cc238-9W
Q13. Mr. W. Hamilton

asked the Minister why he authorised the attack by Royal Air Force airplanes on the township of Harib in the Republic of Yemen on Saturday, 28th March.

The Prime Minister

As my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary has informed the House, the Yemeni Republican Forces have for some time past delivered repeated attacks by land and air across the frontier of the Federation of South Arabia; and their aircraft have frequently intruded into its air space.

For example, in October, 1962, aircraft from the Yemen attacked a village in the State of Beihan, causing serious damage and killing a child. In January, 1963, Yemeni troops armed with mortars and machine guns invaded Federal territory. 11 Between June and August of last year Yemeni forces fired across the Federal border on 52 occasions without any provocation. In some cases the fire was returned, in others it was left unanswered.

We delivered repeated protests to the Yemeni Republican authorities and warned them that we would take whatever action was necessary to defend Federal territory in accordance with our Treaty obligations.

In March, 1963, and again in July and in September, we notified the President of the Security Council of these continued attacks; and we informed him of the warnings we had given to the Republican authorities.

During the winter months, the Yemeni Republican authorities carried out several reconnaissance flights over Federal territory, the last of which was on 9th March. This was followed on 13th March by two separate air attacks in one day, in each of which a Bedouin encampment was strafed with machine gun fire and incendiary bombs. Although their tents were hit, the occupants had fortunately dispersed in time, so that there were no human casualties.

We again addressed a strong protest to the Yemeni Republican authorities. In addition, we formally notified them that, in the event of any renewed attack, we reserved full liberty to react in whatever manner might seem to us appropriate, without further warning. At the same time we addressed a letter to the President of the Security Council, informing him of the latest attacks and of the warning we had given.

Although our protest was presented to the authorities in Sana on 26th March, another air attack was delivered the very next day. Bedouins and their herds were again shot at and a frontier fort occupied by the Federal National Guard was twice subjected to machine gun fire from a helicopter. In the face of these increasingly serious acts of aggression, the Federal Government made a formal request to us to honour our treaty obligations to defend the territorial integrity of their country. Since it was evident that protests and warnings were of no avail, we felt it our duty to take some immediate action to put a stop to these attacks.

With this sole object, aircraft of the Royal Air Force were ordered to make an attack upon a small military fort in an isolated position across the border, about one mile from the township of Harib. In order, as far as possible, to avoid casualties, warning leaflets in Arabic were dropped beforehand. The fire of our aircraft was concentrated accurately upon the target; and, contrary to reports put out by the Republicans, no bombs were dropped and no attack was made on the civilian township of Harib.

We immediately notified the President of the Security Council of the action we had been obliged to take for the defence of the Federation.

We have received no representation on this subject from the Government of the United States.