London talks aim to bolster Yemen's al Qaeda fight

LONDON Wed Jan 27, 2010 5:57am EST

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LONDON (Reuters) - A meeting of Western and Gulf foreign ministers on Wednesday will aim to bolster Yemen's fight against al Qaeda by helping it to tackle the poverty that can create a breeding ground for militants.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the meeting after a Yemen-based al Qaeda affiliate said it was behind a failed attempt to blow up a U.S.-bound plane with 300 people on board.

The December 25 attack drove home how al Qaeda could threaten Western interests from Yemen and highlighted the risk that it could become a failed state, compounding security challenges already posed by lawless Somalia just across the Gulf of Aden.

Wednesday's London talks, which bring together the Group of Eight world powers, Yemen's neighbors in the Gulf Cooperation Council, and Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, is designed to support Yemen, while pushing for economic development and reform.

The European Union, United Nations, World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) will also be represented.

"Yemen is not a failed state but it's an incredibly fragile state," British Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis said in a video on a government website.

"We want to get in there early to offer assistance and to prevent Yemen becoming a failed state," he said.

The meeting, scheduled to start at 1600 GMT and last just two hours, would focus on helping the Yemeni government move its economy forward, creating jobs and improving health, education and law and order, he said.

SECRET OPERATIONS

President Barack Obama approved secret joint U.S. military and intelligence operations with Yemeni troops that began six weeks ago and killed six regional al Qaeda leaders, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

U.S. advisers do not take part in raids in Yemen but help plan missions, develop tactics and provide weapons, it said.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi told the BBC this week that Yemen needed logistical support to fight al Qaeda but would not allow foreign covert operations on its territory.

Western delegates will also be pushing Yemen to press ahead with economic reforms and to tackle corruption.

Yemen has declared war on al Qaeda under pressure from Washington and Saudi Arabia, its oil-producing neighbor and its main aid backer along with the United States.

Apart from al Qaeda, Yemen faces a Shi'ite Muslim revolt in the north, a secessionist movement in the south, water shortages, failing oil income and weak state control.

About 42 percent of Yemen's 23 million people live on less than $2 a day, the World Bank says. The population is set to double in 20 years, but jobs are already scarce and water resources are collapsing.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will head the U.S. delegation. Many of the ministers will also take part in a major international conference on Afghanistan on Thursday.

Britain raised its terrorism threat level after the failed Detroit attack to "severe," meaning an attack in Britain is considered highly likely, and has suspended direct flights from Yemen. Security will be intense for this week's meetings.

Qirbi told Reuters in an interview Yemen risked becoming a failed state unless the world helped to develop its economy to give young people alternatives to a path of Islamist radicalization.

Qirbi said earlier this month Yemen needed about $4 billion a year in economic aid, but the London meeting is not intended to be an aid-pledging conference.

A donors' meeting in London in 2006 pledged about $5 billion for Yemen but only a small portion has been disbursed, partly because of concerns about how the money would be spent.

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