Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Yemen: Update--EU Adviser Requests Help in Mediating Kidnapping of Europeans

COMMENT: Since the 1970s, Yemini tribal chiefs have from time to time kidnapped foreigners in an effort to pressure Sana'a into giving them a bit more than squalor. Sometimes it has worked, and sometimes it hasn't.

Now, fast-forward to December 21, 2012, when a Finnish couple and an Austrian were kidnapped by elements of al-Qaeda, which is much, much different than being abducted by tribesmen, who normally treat foreigners very, very well.

Considering that a significant period of time has passed since the three Europeans were kidnapped, last week President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi received a phone call from European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, during which the president promised to initiate mediation efforts on all levels to free the three hostages. 

Now, in view of the fact that al-Qaeda has been holding a Swiss woman and a Saudi diplomat captive for nearly a year, does not give the the Yeminis a whole lot of pressure to wield.

To make matters worse, an intelligence source apparently told the Xinhua news service negotiations will take place at an al-Qaeda-controlled location that would involve the payment of a cash ransom approaching millions of euros.

Unfortunately, pressure from Ms. Ashton is not particularly helpful, albeit very understandable and warranted, considering the Yemini government is (1) impoverished; and (2) has virtually no political pressure they can apply to al-Qaeda.

Last week, when the Austrian hostage was interviewed in a video released to local media, he said that the hostages would be killed if the ransom is not paid in the course of a week.

Although such "pay-or-die" pressure is often productive, it is very doubtful that either the EU or the government of Yemen has the political will or resources to pay a massive ransom.

On a positive note, the Saudi diplomat who has been held for nearly a year, was also threatened with death, yet presumably he is still alive. 

Yemen, like Jordan,  does not have priceless natural resources, thus they are forced to survive on generous international donors and their friendly dispositions.