10 APRIL 1964, Page 4

Gun-Boats Up-to-Date

THE British proposal to the UN that there should be a neutralised buffer zone between the South-West Arabian Federation and the Yemen has impressed no one. This is perhaps un-

fortunate but scarcely surprising. Had it come a week or two earlier its reception might have been slightly better, at least among Britain's allies. But to appeal to the UN's peacekeepins functions only after taking unilateral action in strafing the Yemeni Fort Harib is to treat that organisation with considerable condescension. It is not as if the need for the action had particular urgency. It can have had two possible explanations : one to fulfil the defence obligations to Beihan, the other to frighten the Egyptians away. The first can only lead to further demands for similar action later. The second has only served to give the Egyptians a badly-needed propaganda advantage. Until events over Easter the Egyptians were doing rather badly in the Yemen, where they had committed up to 35,000 troops to fight an incon- clusive and seemingly endless war against Royal- ist and dissident tribesmen.

Unfortunately Britain finds it hard to be ob- jective in that part of the world. The Government has set its mind on maintaining its military base in Aden for as long as possible. Its knowledge that it cannot do this indefinitely has led it into a series of actions like the postponing of the Aden elections and the interference with the franchise. It acknowledges the short-term nature of its plan in the clause that Aden may seek to leave the Federation after six years. What is so surprising is that after its recent action the Government should think it can maintain the base peacefully for more than six months.

It can be argued, of course, that Britain is bound to defend the Federation by treaty. The best way to do this is to get its rulers to register their complaints against Yemeni and Egyptian infiltra- tion at the United Nations. It is said that there is an inevitable conflict between the British Colonial Office and the Foreign Office. This is a euphemism : the conflict is between an outdated idea of colonialism and realism. No one should think that because a few Sheikhs arc prepared io rely on British support they have the mood of their peoples behind them. The younger and abler men in the Federation territories know quite as well as the British Government that one day the British will withdraw and that the doctrine of Arabia for the Arabians will prevail. In strafing the Harib fort Britain has made a petulant pro- test. But world reactions must be taken into account. The main effect of the action so far has been to encourage the Egyptians to fight on.