Interior Minister Prince Nayef Ibn Abdul Aziz held a press conference in Jeddah yesterday, attended by Information Minister Dr. Fouad Abdulsalam Al-Farsi. Prince Nayef stated that the conference was necessitated by the speech made earlier in the day by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and by what had been circulated by news agencies concerning Sunday's incident on the island of Al-Dwaima, saying: "We did not want the dialogue with our brothers in Yemen to take place via the mass media" and referring to an official Saudi statement made last Friday on the issue, which clearly indicated that Saudi Arabia's only desire is to have direct contact, since all channels are open between the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd Ibn Abdul Aziz and the Yemeni President; and between him and Crown Prince Abdullah Ibn Abdul Aziz, Deputy Prime Minister and Commander of the National Guard, and also Prince Sultan Ibn Abdul Aziz, Second Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector-General.
Prince Nayef further noted that Saudi Arabia always deals with Yemen in a brotherly and a neighborly manner, saying: "We fully appreciate sister Yemen: we appreciate its people, president and government." This, he declared, was the Saudi position yesterday, is today, and will continue to be.
Prince Nayef went on to say that the Saudi people, the Yemeni people, the Arab world and all concerned parties both inside and outside the Arab world, must be made acquainted with the facts in a friendly way. He first thanked the Yemeni President for his speech about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and its monarch, and the Saudi position concerning Yemen. On the border issue, Prince Nayef termed the negotiations as progressing in a proper way with mutual understanding and agreement, and indicated that both parties are working to finalize it as soon as possible.
Turning to what happened on Sunday and the subject of the Yemeni President's speech yesterday, Prince Nayef described Al-Dwaima Island as about six kilometers from north to south, lying not more than one kilometer off the Saudi coast, with part of it, a bay ranging from 200 to 700 meters in width, facing the Yemeni coast. The first of the land border marks between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, in accordance with the Taif Treaty and its supplements, is opposite the southern quarter of the island. It is called Ras Al-Muwaj. The sea border will extend from this mark, according to an agreement to be reached by the two countries which has been the subject of discussion for some time by the joint committees, and was on the agenda at the meeting of the Supreme Joint Committee several weeks ago under the co-chairmanship of Prince Sultan and Sheikh Abdullah Ibn Hussein Al-Ahmar, the Yemeni Speaker of the House. The viewpoints of all participants were identical on the way of tackling Ras Al-Muwaj, as well as Mount Thar, which is the final point in the Taif Treaty. Prince Nayef underlined the necessity of mutual understanding between the two countries and confirmed that the issue of borders will be settled soon, saying: "On this occasion, I would like to reiterate the sure and sincere Saudi wish to have the issue of borders with Yemen settled in a way satisfying the officials in both countries as well as the representatives of the people in the two sister countries."
In the Yemeni president's speech yesterday it was said that Saudi Arabia had occupied certain islands, or had made some offensives. He said that any military activity of the Saudi border guards was made only after that of the Yemenis, to which the Saudi guards felt compelled to respond. Prince Nayef said: "This was not however our wish. Our wish was to leave these sites until an agreement between the two countries is reached and the sea borders are agreed upon. In my capacity as Interior Minister, responsible for the borders and the border guards, I would like to confirm that we have never started any offensives or shooting at our Yemeni brothers." He voiced sorrow that these Yemeni brothers or officials took the initiative and that self-defense had therefore become a necessity. He referred to a statement he had confirming that on May 1, 1998, 14 armed Yemeni soldiers came to Saya Island with sea equipment and menaced the sea border guards by shooting at them if they approached the island.
Prince Nayef went on to say: "On Sunday, May 31, a number of Yemeni soldiers arrived on Raba Island, and fired on the patrols of sea border guards. These soldiers are still on that island. Also, on that day, a number of Yemeni soldiers arrived on Al-Rafi and Al-Bari Islands with a number of armed boats. On Tuesday, June 2, Yemeni military boats were seen at Zamha Island, and a number of Yemeni soldiers had landed there. Negotiations and protests were made in more than one meeting but they insisted on remaining on the islands. The Yemeni side also refused in more than one meeting to bring a naval official for talks. Indeed, we did not speak of this, but negotiations were going on between the two countries by telephone, personal contacts and written messages.
"On Tuesday, June 16, ten Yemeni individuals with automatic weapons arrived on Al-Dwaima Island and erected a tent there. On Saturday, June 20, the Yemeni brothers erected another tent there, in which there were a number of Yemeni soldiers. On Tuesday, June 21, a third tent was erected and a number of armed Yemeni soldiers were seen in it.
"On Wednesday, July 15, our Yemeni brothers constructed a wooden house on Al-Dwaima Island and a number of armed Yemeni soldiers were seen in it. On Friday, July 17, the Yemeni side erected a tent south of the imaginary border line about 100 meters inside the Saudi area of Al-Muwassam. A number of Yemeni soldiers with their automatic weapons were in that tent.
"The Saudi side returned to Thus Hirab Island (a Saudi island) about two months ago, around the end of May, when a small number of border guard personnel arrived there. A few days later, Saudis returned to islands of Merain, Seegha, Haba, Zhahra and Saya. When the Yemeni side insisted on being on Al-Dwaima Island and moved northwards to the Saudi territories, the Saudi side had to advance its points from the northern part of the island to face the Yemeni side. This was a few days ago.
"To come to the incident of Sunday morning, at 5:55 am the Saudi side was fired upon; various arms were used directly towards the Saudi sites, resulting in injuries to the men of the Saudi border guard. The Saudi border guard soldiers then opened fire to defend themselves and firing continued intermittently, and in some cases continuously, until 4:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. After that a cease-fire was agreed upon and a meeting was held between the Saudi border guard officials and their Yemeni counterparts at 10:00 a.m. on Monday morning. This cease-fire was reconfirmed and it was agreed that the opportunity be given to the border committees from both parties to settle the dispute over the island.
"Unfortunately, and we did not want to mention this and did not want it to affect our relationship with our brothers in Yemen, there was an incident last month when Yemeni forces armed with heavy and light weapons, advanced toward the Saudi village of Ateef and opened fire at the villagers there, terrorizing them and making them leave their homes. And eight months ago, Yemeni patrols opened fire on villagers from the Saudi village Al-Garga'ai, resulting in the death of two inhabitants and injuries to others, including women and children. Also, last month, Yemeni patrols opened fire on the Saudi border guard patrols at various sites, using heavy and light weapons, resulting in injuries to six members of the Saudi patrols. This offensive by Yemeni forces was at the Saudi village of Amboora. Contacts were made between the officials in both countries to contain such incidents."
Prince Nayef then answered a number of questions raised by reporters. In reply to a question about the optimism and cordial feelings expressed by him toward the brothers in Yemen despite mounting Yemeni accusations over the past days, he said his optimism emerged from the Kingdom's stance and the joint goal of the two countries' leaderships to realize complete understanding, saying: "Moreover, we sense and have experienced such optimism from our Yemeni brothers."
Commenting on a question about Yemen's pronouncement that Saudi Arabia has been insisting on having have access to the Arabian Sea, he said: "Since the border negotiations started between the two countries, no Saudi official has ever brought up this issue."
Asked to elaborate on the situation on Al-Dwaima island, Prince Nayef said that there was still a Saudi presence on the island, adding: "However, if our Yemeni brothers agree on what has been suggested by Prince Sultan Ibn Abdul Aziz, covering all of the islands, this issue could be discussed. We did not bring the Yemenis to the location where they are now, and we have not entered the part opposite the Yemeni shore, but as a result of the firing which took place yesterday, they evacuated their location, to which they can return. There is Saudi presence on Saudi land, and that is the issue."
Prince Nayef then announced that the Yemeni Foreign Minister will visit Saudi Arabia tomorrow or the day after in response to an invitation from Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud Al-Faisal, to discuss containment of the situation and to provide the Saudi side with the opportunity of hearing what the Yemeni brothers have to say and brief them on the viewpoint of their brothers in the Kingdom.
In response to another question about the borders and the observation that every time this issue nears solution, there is escalation, Prince Nayef said: "There has never been anything on the Kingdom's part. I have disclosed this to you. Moreover, the Kingdom does not like to have any escalation, but desires the border negotiation to continue on its course as agreed upon. I wish to underline, on behalf of the Kingdom, that this incident will not in any way affect this negotiation. The Kingdom will follow what has been agreed upon by the two sides. What has been said about the memorandum of understanding which we have read or heard in the statement issued by the Yemeni official was a real surprise."
Prince Nayef reaffirmed that the Kingdom wants to calm the situation down, and does not want to create problems either by the border incidents or by the incident which took place on Sunday. He said that the southeastern borders between Saudi Arabia and Yemen have already been completed and agreed upon; this is known as the Como Agreement and was concluded between President Saleh and Prince Sultan. Underlining that Al-Kherkhair is Saudi, and that there is a Saudi population there, Prince Nayef repeated: "There is no occupation by the Kingdom of any Yemeni location."