Cablegate: Royg Police End Sit-in by Ethiopian Refugees At

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

B. SANAA 397

1. (U) Summary. Following a partial closing by UNHCR of its
offices in Sana'a and a threat to close permamently, Yemeni
police intervened on March 19 to end the sit-in by Ethiopian
refugees which began February 10, thus ending the potential
security threat posed to the adjacent residence of the DCM.
The question of long-term status of the group of Ethiopian
refugees affiliated with the Mengistu navy remans unresolved,
however, and a number of them remain in jail. End Summary.

2. (SBU) On March 11th the Assistant UN High Commissioner
for Human Rights met in Geneva with Ahmed Al Basha, the
Director of the Africa Department at the MFA, to discuss the
sit-in and try to find a way to bring it to a peaceful end.
According to Saad Al-Attar of UNHCR Sana'a who was present at
the meeting, Al-Basha wanted a letter from UNHCR requesting
the ROYG to disperse the crowd while UNHCR wanted the ROYG to
end the demonstration peacefully in 3 to 4 days without a
written request. The Asst. High Commissioner authorized
Al-Attar to close the Sana'a office if the sit-in was not
brought to a peaceful end. Al-Basha informed Al-Attar that
he would return to Sana'a on March 13 to resolve the
situation but instead decided to take a week-long holiday in
Geneva. With the sit-in continuing and the refugee camp
taking on a semi-permanent quality including large tented
areas, a hot food preparation facility and large numbers of
regular inhabitants, Al-Attar sent most UNHCR employees to
work from home or to work out of various NGO offices in
Sana'a starting Monday March 15.

3. (SBU) On March 19 the ROYG moved to break up the
demonstration. According to an eyewitness account by the
DCM, ROYG police removed the Ethiopian men from the sit-in
site and dismantled their camp early on the morning March 19.
Later that morning over 100 Ethiopians, mostly women,
re-occupied the site after police departed. After repeated
attempts by the police to negotiate with the demonstrators
who eventually began to throw rocks at UNHCR's building, the
police used high-pressure water to disperse the crowd and
reportedly arrested over 100 men and women. During the
confrontation, some demonstrators fled over the wall to the
DCMR compound but were quickly removed. The DCM departed the
DCMR shortly after these incursions began.

3. (SBU) According to various reports from observers,
employers of Ethiopian men and women and Ethiopians known to
Embassy personnel, the arrested demonstrators, some of whom
were mothers of infants and/or toddlers, were still in
custody several days after the police action. According to
information provided by the MOI to the ARSO, as of March 30
only men remain in custody but the number of detainees is
unknown. According to information provided by the PSO to
UNHCR, PSO is holding the "leaders" of the demonstration.
The other detainees will be released gradually upon execution
of an undertaking by each detainee to refrain from future
threats to Yemeni security. There is no word on when/whether
the leaders will be released.

4. (U) UNHCR employees returned to their offices on March
20 but remain closed to appointments with refugees. UNHCR
plans to resume normal operations on April 3. The DCM
returned to his residence on March 19.

5. (SBU) ICMC visited Sana'a and successfully interviewed
cases referred by UNHCR during the course of the sit-in.
Interviews were held at the Sheraton Hotel and were not
interrupted by demonstrators. Meanwhile, PRM has requested
information about what they now refer to as The Naval Group
from UNHCR in order to reevaluate whether they qualify for
resettlement to the US. According to Al-Attar, the response
to this request is sensitive and will require careful
drafting. Al-Attar is now away on medical leave for an
undetermined period of time. His TDY replacement, Steve
Corliss, has agreed to respond to the inquiry prior to the
DHS visit to Sana'a but notes that UNHCR wants to see a
'cooling-off' period prior to resuming any dialogue with the
Naval Group.

6. (U) Comment. The immediate security threat to UNHCR and
the DCMR has been removed but the ongoing dilemma of
how/whether to resettle the Ethiopians, either in the U.S. or
elsewhere, remains. While it is unlikely that a referral
will be forthcoming from UNHCR prior to the planned visit by
DHS regional representative approximately one month from now,
based on the successful conclusion of the ICMC visit Post
believes DHS should go ahead with its plan to come to Sana'a.
End Comment.

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