Vancouver Sun

Ye­men’s wounded sol­diers re­duced to beg­ging

They won­der why they are be­ing de­nied fol­lowup care while their ex­iled lead­ers live in op­u­lence

- BRIAN MUR­PHY

As Ye­men’s war­ring fac­tions strug­gle over pos­si­ble peace talks, a qui­eter des­per­a­tion plays out in the Saudi cap­i­tal: wounded fight­ers left to beg for hand­outs and seek the at­ten­tion of Ye­men’s ousted lead­ers hosted in five-star ex­ile.

In the con­text of Ye­men’s melt­down, there are far greater hard­ships than those faced by the scores of for­mer Ye­meni sol­diers and mili­ti­a­men who have man­aged to reach Riyadh. But it of­fers a small win­dow into a mis­ery that will con­tinue when the Ye­men con­flict even­tu­ally ebbs: the bro­ken lives from the battlefiel­d that is the legacy of all war­fare.

“Some­how there is money to pay for all of this,” said 36-yearold Mo­ham­mad Farhan, an in­jured Ye­meni fighter, wav­ing his hands across the mar­ble lobby of the lux­ury Möven­pick ho­tel in Riyadh — where the brain trust of Ye­men’s ousted gov­ern­ment hashes over plans amid the lat­est bid at peace talks.

“But there is none for us?” he asked. “We feel worse than be­trayed. We feel aban­doned with­out a voice.”

Mo­ments ear­lier, Farhan and three other wounded veter­ans of Ye­men’s war had shuf­fled into the lobby, pass­ing un­der chan­de­liers as big as the am­bu­lances that brought them to the Saudi border. Farhan leaned on a cane. An­other bobbed ahead on a walker.

They paused to take it all in. It was their first time in the Swis­s­run ho­tel. In a far cor­ner, Ye­meni en­voys hud­dled to dis­cuss the at­tempts at UN-me­di­ated ef­forts to end a con­flict deeply com­pli­cated by re­gional ri­val­ries.

Saudi Ara­bia and its Gulf Arab al­lies view Ye­men as a crit­i­cal stand against rebels who they claim are backed by Iran. Tehran de­nies that it is pro­vid­ing direct aid to the rebel fac­tions, known as Houthis, but has sharply crit­i­cized the Saudi-led airstrikes and ground de­ploy­ments in Ye­men.

Ye­men is also home to one of al-Qaida’s most ac­tive branches as well as pock­ets of mil­i­tants linked to the Is­lamic State.

Mean­while, the wounded men — and other fight­ers in­jured in Ye­men’s war — live far across Riyadh in a no-frills apart­ment build­ing as they try to find med­i­cal help, rely on free meals and sink deeper into anger over feel­ing cast aside.

More than 100 in­jured Ye­meni sol­diers and mili­ti­a­men were able to reach Riyadh for some­times life-saving hos­pi­tal care. Once they are dis­charged, how­ever, help is thin and hard to come by, they say.

A Saudi char­ity pays the rent for their apart­ments, but the king­dom’s aid only goes so far. The for­mer fight­ers now look for castoff clothes from the huge com­mu­nity of Ye­meni work­ers in Saudi Ara­bia. Free meals come from Ye­meni restau­rants.

They ap­peal for Ye­men to re­turn them to the mil­i­tary pay­roll in re­spect for their in­juries.

They keep try­ing to get the at­ten­tion of the ex­ile cadres of Ye­men’s Saudi-backed pres­i­dent, Abed Rabbo Man­sour Hadi, who fled the coun­try in March as rebel forces swept over his last refuge in Aden. He re­turned to Aden in Septem­ber, but his pre­cise where­abouts is kept se­cret.

Farhan’s stom­ach and legs were torn open by grenade shrap­nel in May while fight­ing with proHadi mili­tias in the southern city of Taiz. Near death, he was taken to the Saudi border by am­bu­lance in hopes of reach­ing bet­ter med­i­cal care. He ended up in surgery at a Riyadh hos­pi­tal.

“Af­ter I was re­leased, I was taken to the apart­ment build­ing where the other wounded Ye­me­nis live,” he said, fin­ger­ing his cane. “Since then, I’ve been on my own. “It’s the same for the oth­ers.” And they told their sto­ries. Mu­rad Si­nan, 23: Felled by au­to­matic fire at a Ye­meni army check­point. One bul­let clipped his spine, leav­ing him partly par­a­lyzed on his right side and need­ing to use a walker.

“The bul­lets are still in­side me,” he said. “I’m scared one day that some­thing will hap­pen and won’t be able to walk at all.”

Ah­mad al- Rashadi, 26: An ar­chi­tect who joined the mili­tias, hit in the stom­ach by shrap­nel and now in con­stant pain.

Sayed Ta­her al-Hadar, 38: Left with nerve dam­age af­ter be­ing caught in what he be­lieves was a mor­tar bar­rage.

The wounded men claimed that they have been de­nied fol­lowup care in Saudi Ara­bia, such as surg­eries to re­move em­bed­ded frag­ments or phys­i­cal ther­apy. They es­ti­mated that there are hun­dreds of sim­i­lar cases of Ye­meni fight­ers brought to Saudi Ara­bia for emer­gency care and then left with­out fol­lowup.

“We fought with dig­nity,” said Hadar. “We just want to live with dig­nity now and get the help we de­serve. I don’t think that is too much to ask.”

Saudi of­fi­cials did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. But a mem­ber of the Ye­meni po­lit­i­cal en­tourage in Riyadh, Mer­vat Mo­jali, in­sisted the Ye­meni exiles in Riyadh don’t have the in­flu­ence to de­mand Saud­i­funded care for its fight­ers.

“This is a Saudi is­sue,” she said. “They are the ones to help. Th­ese men fought on the Saudi side. They should be treated just like Saudi sol­diers.”

The United Na­tions es­ti­mates that more than 3,500 civil­ians have been killed in Ye­men since Saudi-led airstrikes be­gan in late March.

Last week, the Hadi gov­ern­ment and rebels agreed to start peace talks me­di­ated by a UN en­voy in Switzer­land. A peace bid in June quickly col­lapsed, and on­go­ing fight­ing in Ye­men also threat­ened the lat­est ef­fort.

Any peace ac­cord, how­ever, must sort out of the fate of Hadi and his gov­ern­ment, whose restora­tion to power is a key de­mand of the Saudis. On the other side, how­ever, the Houthis are un­likely to make ma­jor con­ces­sions and still hold the Ye­meni cap­i­tal, Sanaa.

The wounded Ye­meni men in Riyadh watch it all from the side­lines.

“Our fight­ing is over. The war for us is done on the battlefiel­d,” said Farhan. “But it isn’t really fin­ished for us, is it? We will deal with th­ese in­juries for the rest of our lives.”

 ?? AL-BASHA/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES ?? A tribesman, who sup­ports forces loyal to Ye­men’s Saudi-backed Pres­i­dent Abed Rabbo Man­sour Hadi, holds his weapon in Taiz, Ye­men. While Ye­meni of­fi­cials meet in Saudi Ara­bia for talks to end fight­ing, wounded sol­diers say nei­ther the Saudis nor their coun­try’s lead­ers are will­ing to pro­vide proper care for them.
AL-BASHA/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES A tribesman, who sup­ports forces loyal to Ye­men’s Saudi-backed Pres­i­dent Abed Rabbo Man­sour Hadi, holds his weapon in Taiz, Ye­men. While Ye­meni of­fi­cials meet in Saudi Ara­bia for talks to end fight­ing, wounded sol­diers say nei­ther the Saudis nor their coun­try’s lead­ers are will­ing to pro­vide proper care for them.

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