Oman border prepared for Yemen ‘chaos’
February 3, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah. Photo-Times of Oman

Muscat: Today the clocks ticks down to a deadline set by Houthi rebels over the border in troubled Yemen, tension that has top officials here in Oman 'concerned'.

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Political parties across the border were given until today by the Houthi militia to resolve the power vacuum after President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi, and his prime minister, tendered their resignations. As of last night the country remained in limbo.

As the situation deepens, Oman's Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs talked with Becky Anderson, host of CNN's Connect the World show.

Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah told the journalist: "We are concerned for many reasons. Of course the area of Sanaa is very far away from our border. 'This is an area of chaos and chaos gives a chance for every groups, extremists, terrorists, whatever.

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"But we are dealing with these matters. This is not just yesterday, this is for years in Yemen, and I don't think it's going to be short, it's going to go on for some time."

Asked how Oman would prevent 'slippage' into the region from Yemen, the base of operations for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), he responded: "We have enough vision and arrangements in that part of the borders."

When asked if he accepted a risk was there, he said: "There is a risk of course, there is no border with zero risk, that is not in any area of the world. There is no zero risk in the border."

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The current political upheaval in Yemen could also mean a large influx of refugees fleeing their country to seek political asylum in the Sultanate, political analysts said.

Thousands of Yemenis may turn to Oman for help if they are forced to flee from civil war if it breaks out in the troubled country.

"Because of the close ties and proximity between the two countries, Oman is monitoring the situation very closely.

"The immediate concern is the political refugees and people who would flee Yemen to seek shelter in Oman," Abdulrahman Al Fattah, a retired Yemeni diplomat, told Times of Oman.

If the humanitarian situation worsens, Oman has to consider whether it will open its borders and put up refugees in temporary camps near the border it shares with Yemen, he said.

"Oman always has a soft spot when it comes to helping its neighbours. "However, the main concern is the fact that the Sultanate at the moment is tightening its economical belt due to the falling oil prices," he added.

If the refugee situation becomes a reality, then it would make a considerable impact on its finances,"

Khalid Qaissar, a financial analyst said. But political observers have a bigger concern that goes beyond refugee status and financial impact.  

Fragmentation of rebels
The crisis in Yemen may mean the fragmentation of extremists who could find their way to the country. Opening Oman's doors for refugees may well also open the door for rebels who may want to come over to operate from here," a political observer told Times of Oman.

He added that the political split between former President Ali Saleh's supporters and the Houthi tribesmen could force extremists from either sides to find an alternative base to work from.

"Whoever wins from the two feuding groups would drive the extremists underground and they could end up here. That is the biggest concern," he said.   

Reporter can be reached at [email protected]

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