Aden church and clinic close as fighting intensifies

17 April 2015

REUTERS

Linked up: Houthi-movement followers shout slogans against Saudi-led air strikes in Sana'a on Friday

Linked up: Houthi-movement followers shout slogans against Saudi-led air strikes in Sana'a on Friday

CHRIST CHURCH, Aden, and the associated Ras Morbat Clinic are locked and under armed guard as the civil war in Yemen continues, the Anglican Archdeacon in the Gulf, the Ven Bill Schwartz, reports.

Heavy street-to-street fighting in Aden, between forces loyal and hostile to President Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi, has paralysed life in the city. The UN estimates that more than 600 people throughout the country have been killed, and about 2000 wounded since the fighting intensified in April.

The Anglican Chaplain in Aden returned to his home in India in February as the fighting intensified. Although the clinic in the church compound, which offers general medical services and specialist eye treatment, remained open, some three weeks later a decision was taken to close it.

"In part," Archdeacon Schwartz, who is based in Qatar, said, "it was becoming too risky for staff to move around Aden and try to get to work on time. And, also, we didn't want groups of people in the compound becoming potential targets."

A Yemeni administrator of Christ Church, described by Archdeacon Schwartz as "a very valuable and loyal" friend of the Anglican community, is continuing to keep an eye on the compound when he is able to. Archdeacon Schwartz asked that his name should not be published in case this jeopardised his safety.

The Christ Church administrator has removed much of the expensive medical equipment from the Ras Morbat Clinic and taken it to safety. But Archdeacon Schwartz admits that the armed guards would be no match for a determined group of troops or militiamen, if they decided they wanted to break into the compound. Nor would there be much left when they departed. During fighting in 1994, the compound was looted: not only was furniture and equipment stolen, but tiles were lifted from the floor, window frames were removed, and electric cable was ripped from the walls.

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Archdeacon Schwartz said that, of the mainly Asian and African congregations, "all but two [members] have been evacuated. One Kenyan and one Ethiopian decided that for their own reasons they didn't want to go back home."

The days when Westerners felt safe in Aden are long gone. The decision to appoint an Indian to the chaplaincy was based on the fear that a priest from a Western country might be kidnapped.

Archdeacon Schwartz described conditions in Aden as "incredibly dangerous, and plain horrible". Besides urging people to pray for peace, he pointed out that an end to the conflict would signal the start of the much bigger challenge of "putting Yemen back together. We need to think ahead about how Christian organisations might help in reconstructing the country."

Living conditions throughout Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world, have deteriorated over recent days. Efforts to bring urgently needed supplies of food and medical equipment have been restricted by fighting around Sana'a International Airport and Aden port.

The UN humanitarian co- ordinator for Yemen, Johannes van der Klaauw, has called for an "immediate humanitarian pause in this conflict". It was vital that aid should be allowed in by air and sea, he said, to help cope with "one of the largest and most complex humanitarian emergencies in the world". Aden was being ravaged by urban warfare, and one million people in the city "risk being cut off from access to clean drinking water within a matter of days".

The conflict in Yemen is as complicated as it is dangerous. The Zaidi Shi'a Houthis, from the far north of the country, have sided with army units loyal to the ousted head of state, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and have taken over the capital, Sana'a, and many other parts of the country. They are fighting elements of the army loyal to President Hadi, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula - besides armed tribes and southerners seeking independ-ence.

President Hadi was trapped in his palace at Sana'a by the Houthis, when they took control of the capital before escaping to Aden. But, as forces opposed to him advanced, he fled to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states played a leading part in the transfer of power from President Saleh to President Hadi. They are now conducting an air campaign to try to stop the Houthi army advancing. The Saudis have accused the Iranians of supporting the Shi'a, a claim denied by Iran.

Gulf states sought last month to bring all sides in the conflict back to the negotiating table, but the threat that Aden would fall to the Houthis and their allies prompted the Saudis to start air strikes, which, they say, will continue until forces opposed to President Hadi withdraw from the capital.

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