Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson sat down for an exclusive interview with the man widely regarded as the most influential in Yemen: General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmer. General Al-Ahmer broke ranks with President Ali Abdullah Saleh in March. Now his forces are in a stand-off with units loyal to the President. This is a partial transcript of the first television interview General Al-Ahmer has ever given to a western network.
Q. General, the Vice President says that President Saleh can stay in power until a new President is elected and that could take six months, maybe more – is that acceptable?
A. The general public in Yemen are seeking a transfer of power to the vice president – the way it was stipulated in the constitution and the GCC proposal. This is the general demand.
Q. Is that a yes, you’re willing to accept President Saleh staying in power for another 6 months?
A. People have agreed on the transfer of power. People have agreed to give a specific timetable for transfer of power, for the GCC initiative, and all the people in Yemen have agreed on this and the government and the opposition and the ruling party and the signing of the agreement is compulsory. And our friends the Americans and the Europeans and the British and the GCC and Saudi Arabia are guarantors for its implementation. So this is a principle that we must follow because there are agreements that sides have signed and it is compulsory that all sides agree on its specifics not change its points, not adding one letter to it, not decreasing one letter from it.
Q. The vice president has said that he has full power to negotiate and he can sign any document – that the president is out of the country – he’s sick, he’s incapacitated – so why can’t you just do a deal with the vice president? The president’s sick – he’s no part of the equation now …
A. Our brother the vice president is wise. Because he has morals, he’s not saying that openly. In reality, all sides agree on him, and all respect him but in truth he does not act with full authority as president of the Republic of Yemen, but in the future, he will practice his full authority.
Q. Why do you believe that? Because the president at the moment shows no sign of letting go of real power …
A. Because the country right now is living through a complete political stalemate – a constitutional stalemate and the people are watching. The people are waiting to see what will happen – negative reactions might happen but we hope that God will keep us far from civil war and other problems.
Q. The scenario you just described sounds very close to civil war – you’re asking for more international help and support to put pressure on president Saleh. Yet at the same time, you’re saying hopefully this won’t happen and everyone will stay peaceful – I don’t understand, are you close to civil war or aren’t you?
A. We need the intervention of our friends and quickly – because propagandas might take place against the country … It could put the country into a severe security stalemate. The entire region will be affected security wise.
Q. What are you doing to make sure that the dialogue continues and that violence doesn’t break out?
A. Honestly we met with the US Ambassador. We met our British friends and the British Ambassador. We also met with UN representative Omar and we met with the Gulf Ambassadors. We met with our brother the Vice President. And we also met with officials with the ruling party. We also ask for our friends the Americans, to intervene because they are guarantors in this initiative – because it really helps Yemen to ensure a unique, civil, democratic nation, so we can be stable and secure. So these peaceful demands – the people must help with these peaceful demands – whether friends or neighbors – to help Yemen pass to safe waters.