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Journalists Invited To Tour One Of Yemen's Safest Cities


It is hard for any foreigners to go to Yemen. That country's locked in a years-long long civil war. But NPR's Ruth Sherlock got an unusual invitation there. She was one of a small number of journalists brought to Yemen by the Sanaa Center, an independent think tank. They went at the invitation of the governor of what is probably the safest and most stable province. He wanted to show how the economy was booming in his area. Ruth just came out of Yemen yesterday after a long drive. She joins us from neighboring Oman. Hi there, Ruth.


KELLY: So this sounds like a really unusual trip. And I wonder, when you got there, were you able to move around? Were you able to report freely in Yemen?

SHERLOCK: Well, sort of. So this province, Marib, it might be one of the safest. But we still had to travel in armed vehicles with armed escorts. And the organizers insisted that we didn't stay long in any one place. In part, that's because just up until a couple of years ago, this really was a no-go area. Al-Qaida was rampant, and the U.S. still does frequent drone strikes there. In fact, we were told there was one not far from the city when we were there. It's now the main stronghold for those on the side of the war that are backed by Saudi Arabia. They're fighting rebels backed by Iran who've taken the capital. So even though it's not on a front line it's still very much part of the war, and you could see that.

KELLY: Now, speaking of the war, you were able to visit a hospital while you were there that's treating war wounded and others. Describe what that looked like, what it was like.

SHERLOCK: Yeah. Well, what struck me most is that this is meant to be one of the best hospitals in the country, and it really was desperate. They're lacking in everything, from beds to basic medicines. Doctors said they didn't even have enough antibiotics. It was full of people who were wounded in the war, and most of them were young men hurt on the front lines. But there were also civilians, and landmines have been a huge problem there. I met one boy, Abdullah (ph), he's 12. I won't use his last name because his parents weren't there, but he was sitting on a hospital bed waiting to have a prosthetic limb fitted. One of the doctors helped me talk to him.

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: (Foreign language spoken).

ABDULLAH: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: He says he stood on a mine just outside his home seven months ago. He's lost much of his left leg and the toes on his right foot. Now, we didn't see victims of cholera, which is also rampant. That was because they're in another hospital, but this is still a sign of how bad things are.

KELLY: Now, this area where you were, though, you mentioned is one of the more stable areas of the country. Were you able to see people coming in and fleeing from the front lines of the war?

SHERLOCK: Yes. So Marib is said to be home to more than a million internally displaced people. I met some of the luckier ones, students who've managed to keep their education going by attending the local university there. And I spoke with Haloud Murad (ph), a biology student from Sanaa.

HALOUD MURAD: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: She says her brother was killed in the war and he was shot dead at a checkpoint on a road outside the city, and she doesn't know why. This is a story that's familiar. There were lots of other students in similar situations. But, you know, at least they feel safe now here.

KELLY: It sounds like such a juxtaposition, these wrenching stories like you just described, but meanwhile you're in this town that's relatively stable, and the governor wanted you to come because business is booming.

SHERLOCK: Yes, and that does tell you a lot about the wider war. This has been going on for two and half years now, and the front lines haven't really moved. So we met people who trade across these front lines. We met a trader of khat. That's the narcotic leaf that's part of Yemini everyday life. And there are clearly people profiting from this war. And the risk is that if there are people with such incentives then the intention to kind of stop the fighting lessens, and it's kind of unclear how this conflict can come to an end.

KELLY: That's NPR's Ruth Sherlock reporting on her recent travels in Yemen. Thanks very much, Ruth.

SHERLOCK: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ruth Sherlock is an International Correspondent with National Public Radio. She's based in Beirut and reports on Syria and other countries around the Middle East. She was previously the United States Editor for the Daily Telegraph, covering the 2016 US election. Before moving to the US in the spring of 2015, she was the Telegraph's Middle East correspondent.