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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08JEDDAH148 2008-03-23 11:53:00 CONFIDENTIAL Consulate Jeddah
Cable title:  

SMUGGLING ACROSS YEMENI BORDER DIFFICULT TO CURB

Tags:   PARM PGOV PINR PREL PTER SNAR KCRM SA YE 
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1. (C) SUMMARY: The SAG continues to face difficulties in its
efforts to curb the smuggling of weapons, drugs, and people
across the Yemeni border, according to a Ministry of Interior
(MoI) colonel stationed in Jizan. The colonel cited terrain,
profit motive, and smugglers' organization and tactics as the
prime challenges facing the Kingdom's counter-smuggling
operations, but noted modest progress in Saudi-Yemeni
cooperation. END SUMMARY.



2. (C) At the conclusion of a March 1 - March 3 visit to the
city of Jizan and the Farasan Islands, Econoffs had the
opportunity to speak with COL Mohammed Abdullah Assiri
(strictly protect) about Yemeni border security issues (NOTE:
COL Assiri's official association was with the Jizan
governorate's public relations department, but he confided to
Econoffs that he was a colonel with the MoI and was in charge
of security during our trip. END NOTE.). Based on his
extensive and continuing involvement in border security
operations, COL Assiri offered a candid account of the status
of efforts to counter the smuggling of weapons, drugs, and
people from Yemen into the Kingdom, stating that it was
unlikely that the SAG would be able to curb illicit flows in
the foreseeable future.

Weapons, Drugs, and People


--------------------------





3. (C) COL Assiri referred to Yemen as "a land of 60 million
weapons, three per person" (NOTE: open source estimates range
from 20 million to 60 million weapons and a population of
about 22 million. END NOTE.). He said it was virtually
impossible to keep this vast supply from spilling across the
border, even though the MoI's Border Guard routinely
interdicts large shipments of rifles, handguns, and
ammunition. The colonel was deeply concerned about the
effect that this constant influx will have on the Kingdom's
internal security.



4. (C) The Border Guard is failing to curb the smuggling of
the stimulant leaf qat, according to the colonel. He cited
the compelling economic motive for a Yemeni farmer to grow
the crop, and said that Saudi consumer demand is a
significant factor in maintaining the high price of the
plant. In addition to qat, he said that smugglers also bring
marijuana across the border, and that both drugs are
distributed to Saudi consumers by a loose network of gangs.



5. (C) COL Assiri said that smuggled children make up a large
portion of illicit human cross-border traffic, and are
typically placed in child beggar rings. Parents are often
complicit, since the income from one child beggar can support
an entire family back in Yemen. The colonel said that the
SAG repatriates all illegal immigrants, children and adults
alike. He noted that illegal Yemeni immigrants are usually
much easier to apprehend than those from the Horn of Africa,
as their expectation of easily sneaking into the Kingdom
again makes them less resistant to capture.

Difficulties Defending the Border


--------------------------





6. (C) The loosely distributed organization of the smuggling
networks presents a growing challenge, according to the
colonel. Family and tribal connections, often spanning the
border, play a crucial role in the networks. Outside of
these trusted associations, participants will have contact
only with their immediate buyers and sellers, with limited or
no information about the non-adjacent links in the
distribution chain. Even in the smuggling of weapons,
smugglers will typically be motivated by profit rather than
by ideology, unaware of the ultimate destination of the
shipments they transmit.



7. (C) Smugglers' tactics also make them hard to interdict,
particularly in the mountainous western region. COL Assiri
described techniques such as walking in columns with
individuals spaced far apart so that if the lead smuggler is
shot or captured the others can escape. He also noted their
use of tricks such as wearing shoes that leave
backwards-facing footprints. The colonel said that the Saudi
Border Guard was having some success via the increased use of
booby traps. However, the border remains so easy to cross
that the MoI sees little reason to devote resources to
guarding alternative channels such as coastal routes.
Indeed, Econoffs saw only one coast guard observation post
during their trip, and it was unmanned.



8. (C) The colonel pointed to improved Saudi-Yemeni
cooperation as one positive trend in the effort to curb
smuggling. This includes extradition treaties and joint
training exercises. He also noted that smuggling has dropped
significantly during periods when the Yemeni government has
attempted to prevent cross-border movement by Shia tribes
aligned with the al-Houthi rebellion, most recently during a
flare-up in January. However, he repeatedly expressed his
concern that the continuing high volume of illicit traffic
will have a significant negative effect on internal stability
and security.
GFOELLER