The gunmen of Aden who keep saying sorry

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As fighting raged in the Yemeni port of Aden this last week, the BBC's Orla Guerin made a brief visit from nearby Djibouti. Here she describes her journey in a local cargo boat and a tense meeting the local militia, which is defending the city against attackers from the north.

As we lined up in front of our rusting boat a colleague - who was staying behind - decided to take a photo.

"Thanks," I said, "nice to have a picture of the team." It's not for that," he replied. "If anything goes wrong, it will help identify your bodies by your clothing." We were all well aware of the risks of entering this particular war zone, and our trip was meticulously planned, but suddenly the intense African heat turned cool.

We said our goodbyes and climbed on board for a 21-hour voyage from Djibouti to Yemen. On paper it was the perfect cruise - calm blue seas, constant sunshine, and the occasional passing dolphin. The crew served us hot sweet tea and flatbread for breakfast, and fish straight from the Gulf of Aden for dinner. Alas, we had company from a small army of cockroaches, but we had chartered a boat normally used for livestock.

It was plain sailing until we neared the southern port of Aden, where there had been another round of Saudi airstrikes that morning. A sudden gunshot had us diving for cover. It came from a vessel full of heavily armed men, in traditional Yemeni wraparound skirts, and flip-flops. One started waving a rocket-propelled grenade in our direction. They demanded that everyone on board line up on deck.


"Couldn't be pirates," I thought. We were too near land and Somali pirates are not the threat they used to be thanks to the presence of international warships in in these waters.

Since our visitors didn't identify themselves, we did. "Sahafa BBC," we shouted - "BBC journalists."

Once they heard that, they lowered their weapons and rushed forward offering profuse apologies. "Welcome, welcome. Sorry, sorry, sorry." It wasn't the only time we heard that during our brief visit.

Once on dry land, we headed to the nearest hospital, where six more war wounded had just arrived. There was no electricity and the generator was running out of fuel. "We can't even do X-rays," said Dr Mohamed Mohsin, a harried orthopaedic surgeon. "I often have to just patch patients up and send them home to make room for new ones." Almost 50 people have died at the hospital in the past month, most shot in the head or heart - the signature of a sniper.

An hour later we were in a sniper's killing ground, in the front-line area of Al Qalooah. It's under the control of locals from the so-called Popular Resistance Committees. They are the DIY defenders of Aden, trying to keep Houthi rebels out of their neighbourhoods.

Akram Yafooz, a softly spoken social worker, pointed out a red-brick building on a hilltop occupied by the Houthis. He insisted the local fighters would win, though they are outgunned. "They have tanks and we have Kalashnikovs. But our heavy weapons are in our chests," he said, pointing at his heart.

We moved up the main street, towards the last checkpoint held by the militia. The road is exposed to sniper fire and the Houthis had been shooting hours earlier.

Chaos erupted when a car tried to turn the corner - into the line of fire. The fighters across the road suddenly pointed their guns at us. When we shouted - once again - that we were journalists they came running over, and there was another round of armed apologies - "Sorry Sorry!"

Across town we sat down with around a dozen volunteer fighters at their makeshift headquarters - a decrepit compound which they said was used by British forces in colonial days. The youngest was an 18-year-old called Ahmed Nasser, who is still at school.


"I'm ready to die for this," he said with conviction. "They came all the way from Sanaa to fight us on our land, we didn't go there to fight them."

The militia men see the Houthis as northern invaders, trying to overrun their southern homeland. They want Yemen to be divided again, North and South, as it was before 1990. "Everybody should go to their own land," said Ghassan Haider, a salesman turned fighter. "No compromises, no middle ground, no federation."

The only winner so far in Yemen's latest civil war appears to be the local branch of al-Qaeda. It has been exploiting the chaos to rob a bank, conduct a jail break, and expand its territory.

Soon we had to rush back to the port. Our ship had been warned to go before dark. As we sailed away, dense black smoke was rising from Aden. We could leave in safety while so many others could not. It was my turn to feel very sorry.

 
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The mentality in separating people of Yemen based on Southerns and Northerners is wrong. This can lead to Yemen getting split but I hope it doesn't.
 
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It seems it's heading precisely that way, unfortunately.
Im very concerned too. Al-Abyadh is visiting Saudi Arabia these days and might get a warning that such an idea is not acceptable and will not be supported. He is from south and has been pushing for autonomy for quite some time. If that were to happen it will be devastating for the people of the north. All resources are in the south. The north part of Yemen is very poor.
 
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There must be some crazy drugs into the food and water that our people drink and eat. We have all this spirit to fight as tribes, or as regions or as nationalists....except fighting as Muslims for sake of God. I can't believe all this chaos going on and we still have people who see it as north vs south or my tribe is superior to your tribe or my tribe has such rich history. I don't give a flying **** about your tribe you moron. This is unbelievable that us Arabs still emphasize such stupid things. Especially when the Prophet(SAW) greatly addressed this specific issue. He taught us to abandon our close minded ways of boasting of being from so and so tribe as it kills our society. I love the Yemeni people, they're very supportive of our cause. That being said, it doesn't give us Muslims excuses to abandon our duties. We can't have this kind of tribal mentality especially at this time. What more needs to happen till we have concerned Muslims? Fighting for sake of Islam and Muslims? You would think enough has happened in the region for the rest to follow suit. But no, still many Muslims only care of their personal situation and absolve themselves of responsibility. The least we can do is urge our leaders to take steps we want. But it doesn't seem like our leaders nor people know what to do. That's how backwards we are. Thanks to this dictatorial culture enforced on us where our governments want us to be lazy and only preach revisionist Islam to us(the one which suits interests of each government). We are on dire need of smart leadership. And a leader who strives for justice in all its forms. Not just criminal justice. We want someone who fights for fairness, fights for the poor, the oppressed, fights for morality, opposes a culture that is full of drama and excessive happiness. We had this leader in Prophet Muhammad, I hope God can bring him back to us or at least someone like him. :(
 
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There must be some crazy drugs into the food and water that our people drink and eat. We have all this spirit to fight as tribes, or as regions or as nationalists....except fighting as Muslims for sake of God. I can't believe all this chaos going on and we still have people who see it as north vs south or my tribe is superior to your tribe or my tribe has such rich history. I don't give a flying **** about your tribe you moron. This is unbelievable that us Arabs still emphasize such stupid things. Especially when the Prophet(SAW) greatly addressed this specific issue. He taught us to abandon our close minded ways of boasting of being from so and so tribe as it kills our society. I love the Yemeni people, they're very supportive of our cause. That being said, it doesn't give us Muslims excuses to abandon our duties. We can't have this kind of tribal mentality especially at this time. What more needs to happen till we have concerned Muslims? Fighting for sake of Islam and Muslims? You would think enough has happened in the region for the rest to follow suit. But no, still many Muslims only care of their personal situation and absolve themselves of responsibility. The least we can do is urge our leaders to take steps we want. But it doesn't seem like our leaders nor people know what to do. That's how backwards we are. Thanks to this dictatorial culture enforced on us where our governments want us to be lazy and only preach revisionist Islam to us(the one which suits interests of each government). We are on dire need of smart leadership. And a leader who strives for justice in all its forms. Not just criminal justice. We want someone who fights for fairness, fights for the poor, the oppressed, fights for morality, opposes a culture that is full of drama and excessive happiness. We had this leader in Prophet Muhammad, I hope God can bring him back to us or at least someone like him. :(
Fighting as Muslims for the sake of God is what's happening in Iraq and Syria so yeah, I don't think that's a much better option than "tribal mentality", and what's wrong with that, anyway? As long as one puts his country before his tribe it's not a problem at all. My tribe is the same tribe of all Jordanians, the one Jordanian family of different ethnicities and origins led by the Hashemite King

what you're referring to only makes sectarianism even more likely since each sect of (in this case) Islam has its own version of 'morality' and 'fairness' and they'll kill each other trying to establish their world view and impose it on others which is exactly what's happening in Iraq and Syria (as I said).

The key is secularism in which those who are religious can freely practice their faiths so long as they don't obstruct the rights of others in society.
 
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It is surprising the gunmen let the journalists go, and I thought they would of kept them and even let them see their base as well and talk to some of the fighters like the young 18 year old boy. They are trying to keep people from the South and North away form each other and if they keep on attacking than very few people will remain in the place. So they don't want any compromises just South stay on your side and us North will stay on our side since 1990 it looks like things have not improved so guns are the answer for this I guess.
 
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the next yemeni leader must be from the south. they went through a lot. and if they dont get reworded in some way they will ask to split the country.
 
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Fighting as Muslims for the sake of God is what's happening in Iraq and Syria so yeah, I don't think that's a much better option than "tribal mentality", and what's wrong with that, anyway? As long as one puts his country before his tribe it's not a problem at all. My tribe is the same tribe of all Jordanians, the one Jordanian family of different ethnicities and origins led by the Hashemite King

what you're referring to only makes sectarianism even more likely since each sect of (in this case) Islam has its own version of 'morality' and 'fairness' and they'll kill each other trying to establish their world view and impose it on others which is exactly what's happening in Iraq and Syria (as I said).

The key is secularism in which those who are religious can freely practice their faiths so long as they don't obstruct the rights of others in society.
Nobody mentioned anything about practicing faith freely. And I didn't state things will be settled without violence, actually the way I see it its going to be very violent as it already is. There are two main sects in Islam, in Syria they aren't infighting because of different views. There is infighting because some Arab nations and western nations are arming certain FSA factions and giving them orders to attack Nusra Front or other groups. Just because Nusra Front takes preemptive action against that doesn't make it fighting based on differing views.

Tribal mentality breeds arrogance when identity is interpreted in wrong way. Which is why we have tribes thinking they're high class or special and look down upon other nationalities in region. That's just one problem involved. There are many more, but mostly it's a character problem which is our problem today.

Btw, the Syrian Mujahideen are making progress. Once they liberate Syria you will see how your own country, iraq, Iran, Turkey and West respond. That's when you'll understand.
 
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What would be so bad about a Southern Yemen Republic anyway? I think it's the best solution to a lasting peace and it doesn't necessarily have to spell economic soon for North Yemen, they are close to Africa (which is a large market) and can figure things out on their own. The only down side I see is that they may be somewhat of a nuisance to Saudi Arabia but still, I'm thinking Southern Yemenis have a right to self determination and to live in peace away from houthi shits.

Also the Saudi led coalition should send appropriate help right away to the people of Aden before they suffer even more at the hands of the houthi terrorists.
 
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What would be so bad about a Southern Yemen Republic anyway? I think it's the best solution to a lasting peace and it doesn't necessarily have to spell economic soon for North Yemen, they are close to Africa (which is a large market) and can figure things out on their own. The only down side I see is that they may be somewhat of a nuisance to Saudi Arabia but still, I'm thinking Southern Yemenis have a right to self determination and to live in peace away from houthi shits.

Also the Saudi led coalition should send appropriate help right away to the people of Aden before they suffer even more at the hands of the houthi terrorists.
Saudis won't allow Yemen to split for many reasons.

The most effective idea is to deploy ground troops to secure vital areas that Houthis use to station, move and smuggle weapons from the north to the south.
 
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