Brits give Yemen an OK, other governments urged to follow suit


Yemen is once again safe for “responsible travelers,” according to the British Foreign Office in a statement released yesterday. The United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is now advising against visiting just five of Yemen’s 21 Governorates, having previously advised “against all but essential travel” to the whole country.

The move comes following FCO’s latest assessment of a series of developments that have been welcomed by foreign governments and tour operators alike, Yemen’s Ministry of Tourism said.

“We advise against all but essential travel to the Governorates of Sa’dah, Ma’rib, al Jawf, Shabwah and Hadramaut due to the threat of terrorism and tribal violence,” FCO said in its travel advice. “Since September 2006, travel restrictions have applied in these governorates. You should take all necessary steps to protect your safety; this includes having confidence in your personal security arrangements.”

According to the Yemeni Ministry of Tourism, the United State’s State Department, which had temporarily withdrawn some of its non-essential staff following an attack on its embassy, has praised Yemen’s efforts for its handling of a number of more recent incidents, and earlier this month, announced that all its staff would be returning soon. The US government has always considered Yemen an integral part of its war on terror, according to published reports.

“The most positive development for Yemen has been the final cessation of conflict in the remote northern governorate of Sa’ada more than five weeks ago,” the Yemeni Ministry of Tourism added. Referring to this development, Yemeni President Saleh on July 14 said, “Dialogue is better than bloodshed.” He added that, “A whole range of initiatives is already emerging, involving dialogue between the different groups and especially engaging young people.”

“The feedback from British visitors is invariably excellent. I hope that many more people from Britain and Ireland will come to experience our beautiful country,” Yemen Tourism Promotion Board executive director Ahmad Al-Biel said in response to the UK government’s decision. Meanwhile, Yemenia’s UK manager Jubran Al-Jahdari said, “This is great news, as British travelers will once again be able to take advantage of our direct non-stop flights from Heathrow.”

Yemeni Foreign Affairs Minister Abu Bakr Abdallah al-Qirbi and Interior Minister Mutahir Rashad al-Masri have been arduously making strides to convince foreign governments that Yemen is a safe destination. Last month, the two ministers invited European ambassadors to a joint meeting in Sana’a to describe in detail the specific security measures that are in place and to address any other concerns that foreign governments might have.

Along with the Ministry of Interior, the Yemeni Ministry of Tourism has implemented “an integrated security strategy in all tourism destinations.” According to the Ministry of Tourism, there is now no internal restriction on tourists wishing to visit and travel between key sites and attractions from Sana’a to Aden, al-Hajarah, Hodeida, Ibb, Manakha, Marib, Mukalla, Sayun, Shibam, Shibam-Kawkaban, Ta’iz, Tarim, Thula, Wadi Do’an, Wadi Hadhramaut and, of course, Socotra.

The foreign minister expressed concern about travel warnings and invited foreign governments to review their travel advice. This has led to some thorough assessments and helped the British government to have the confidence to change its travel advice to what it is today.

An Abu Dhabi newspaper, called The National, reported that Yemeni security forces killed a key al-Qaeda mastermind. “This operation is a big blow to al-Qaeda and will, of course, invite an angry response from al-Qaeda to retaliate. It is clear now the confrontation between the government and al-Qaeda is open,” said Saeed Thabet, a political analyst who follows Islamist movements, as told to the local paper.

The same report confirmed that Yemeni authorities’ announcement on August 12 that Hamza al Quaiti, al-Qaeda in Yemen’s number two, was killed, along with five other terror suspects in a shoot-out with police the previous day in Tarim, in south-eastern Hadramaut province. Another two suspected militants were wounded and arrested by police.

Quaiti has been alleged by the Yemeni Ministry of Interior for masterminding several terror attacks in Yemen in recent months, including four car bomb attacks and an attack on Belgian tourists in Hadramaut on January 18 that killed two Belgian women and two Yemeni drivers. The ministry has also accused Quaiti of being behind the US Embassy bombing in March that killed a security guard and wounded 13 students at a nearby school.