Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Aseer Moves to Recover Alleged “Stolen Lands”

Elena White
Jun 12, 2012
A Yemeni-based rights group, Aseer announced on Wednesday it would seek to “recover Yemen’ stolen lands, reigniting with Saudi Arabia an old border feud.
Back in 2011 when Yemen uprising had the entire Arabian Peninsula glued to its seats, political analysts warned that Yemenis would bring the matter back to the forefront of the news.
Debka analysts told the Yemen Observer that Yemen - Saudi border issues had never been properly solved, leaving room for litigation. “Although former President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed an agreement with King Abdullah, it does not mean that Yemenis agreed….now that the old regime is gone, I would assume such a controversial treaty will find strong popular opposition.”
In its claim against Saudi Arabia, Aseer identified the districts of Najran, Jizan and Aseer – currently in southwest Saudi Arabia close to the Yemeni border – as occupied lands, prompting strong reactions in Riyadh with politicians already warning Saudi help should be delivered pending recognition of all pre-Saleh treaties.
The main legal base of the group’s claim is that former President Ali Abdullah saleh allegedly conceded the lands against a hefty sum of money - $18 billion – which were then distributed amongst officials at the signature of the Taif Treaty in 2000. “Regaining Yemeni lands is a first step towards regaining sovereignty and independence from Saudi hegemony,” the group said in a statement issued on Wednesday.
Aseer’s spokesperson, Abdulrahman al-Ashoul, considered the regaining of the lands a national issue that concerns all Yemeni people, adding that this “political fight should not be exploited in any political struggle between political parties.”
Beyond the territorial recovery, Aseer seeks to end Saudi Arabia’s hold over Yemen, rejecting the Kingdom’s influence over its state and tribal institutions. Political analysts Ahmed al-Sofy explained that such a reaction against the Kingdom was actually rather natural since the revolutionary movement born in 2011 in Yemen sought to reject all forms of authority to replace it anew. “Now that the regime is gone Yemenis will focus their anger on the authoritarian figure, Saudi Arabia and its Princes.”
He added “This is exactly why the Kingdom opposed Yemen’s uprising in the first place, it knew that freedom calls for more freedom.” According to local media the group is scheduled to meet with a number of legal consultants to discuss the possibility of filing a case against the Saudi occupation and recognizing Yemen’s right to the disputed regions.  These discussions will be held “with specialists in international law, geography, legal consultants and historians in Sanaa and Beirut to prepare a complete project and work plan.”  The Treaty of Taif –sources al-Bab.com - The Treaty divides the Yemeni-Saudi border into three parts.
The first part is the area originally covered by the 1934 Treaty of Ta’if. This runs from the Red Sea coast to Jabal al-Thar, the “moving mountain” whose identity had been hotly disputed.
It is now fixed in position with a grid reference. The main problem here has been relating the line described in the Ta’if treaty to actual points on the ground. Both sides have now agreed to employ a specialist company to survey the line and erect marker columns. There is also a continuing problem in relating ancient tribal boundaries and grazing rights to the Ta’if line. The Wa’ila tribe, for instance, reject the official border on the grounds that they have a 241-year-old document demarcating their own tribal boundary with the Yam tribe.
The new agreement provides for amendments to the Ta’if line where the border cuts through villages, and allows cross-border grazing (with special permits) for shepherds. One concern is that this area is also a traditional smuggling route, and Appendix 4 of the agreement seeks to prevent well-armed “shepherds” driving across the frontier in convoys of trucks stuffed full of consumer goods. The second part of the land border - the longest section - runs from Jabal al-Thar to the frontier with Oman but its precise legal status under the treaty is puzzling. The treaty says it has not yet been defined but “the two contracting parties have agreed to demarcate this part in an amicable way”.
The treaty does, however, define the starting and finishing points, and refers to Appendix 2, which is described as “tables defining distances of the border line”. The tables are not, in fact, “distances” but a set of 17 co-ordinates: Joining up these co-ordinates would produce a border very similar to the “Como Line” which was provisionally agreed in 1997 when President Ali Abdullah Salih met Prince Sultan bin Abd al-Aziz in Italy (see article in Middle East International).  What seems to have happened is that the two sides have agreed on a number of fixed points but not the line between them.
This may be an attempt to avoid the problems that can arise when borders are drawn in straight lines on a map without reference to the local geography.
Once the independent survey team have done their work it will be easier to see whether any adjustments should be made in the spaces between the fixed points.
It is worth noting that the provisional border in this area is well to the north of borders claimed by the Saudis between the 1930s and 1950s. Part of it appears to follow the Riyadh Line (offered by the British to Ibn Saud in 1935) but it dips south in the middle to avoid the Saudi city of al-Wadi’a.  The third part of the border is the maritime frontier.
The repeated and very precise references to its starting point on the coast - the quay of Ra’s al-Ma’uj Shami, Radif Qarad outlet (latitude 16, 24, 14, 8 north, and longitude 42, 46, 19, 7 east) - are obviously intended to leave no room for doubt … a sign that this has previously been contested. Yemen had earlier pointed out that the Ta’if line turned north-west before reaching the sea and regarded it as an indication that the maritime border should continue in the same direction. The Saudis appear to have won that argument, because the newly-agreed maritime line starts by heading due west.    

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