South Yemen

THE SOUND of South Yemen's Marxist revolution has become "caw, caw, caw" and its symbol, whether the authorities like it or not, seems to be a flock of crows staring down from a parched tree.

Wherever you go in this austere capital near the strategic Bab al-Mandab Strait, the crows are there to haunt you. Residents say they were imported years ago by Parsi Indians during the days when this was a British outpost for ships traveling to the colonies.

Since then, they have multiplied so fast they have become a friendly nuisance, basking insolently on roofs, electric wires, branches and even camel humps. Aden police sometimes shoot at them to drive them away--and there is a story behind that.

Three Yemeni youths chewing qat, a mildly narcotic leaf allowed here on Thursday afternoon and Friday to ease people through the Moslem day of rest, giggled and said the shooting started after a visit here some years ago by President Fidel Castro of Cuba.

The Cuban leader was reading from a declaration hailing South Yemen's revolutionary martyrs during a big rally, the youths said, when along came a crow and dropped excrement on his beard.

TO A FOREIGNER visiting for the first time, it sometimes seems the crows are paid informers. Plenty of others, the visitor is told, actually are. Friendly Yemenis warn that telephones cannot be trusted--a conversation in a private room begins with a search for bugging devices.

This is so because secrecy is important to the government of President Ali Nasser Mohammed. The president--who also is prime minister and secretary-general of the Yemeni Socialist Party's Central Committee--flew to Moscow June 8, for example, while the local press reported he was still home meeting with the visiting Saudi interior minister.

Photographs of Aden's oil refinery and port are forbidden. Yemenis are barred by law from talking with foreigners. Although enforcement of this legislation has eased in recent years, some diplomatic wives still cannot talk to their own servants if by chance they encounter them on the street.

The secrecy makes information hard to come by in Aden. One recently arrived ambassador asked an acquaintance at the Foreign Ministry how many Soviet and Eastern European advisers live in the country. He was told to submit his questions in writing.

PART OF THE concern stems from distrust of foreigners, which longtime residents say is a Yemeni trait that preceded the advent of Marxist government by hundreds of years. Foreigners who live in Aden cannot travel out of the local district. Soviet and Eastern European advisers are infrequently seen on the streets and live mostly in compounds. A few wandering in the markets have been stabbed, Yemenis recall.

A young French researcher who fell in love with a Yemeni girl was expelled from the country after he asked for her hand and was seen driving around the city with her.

But another part of the concern grows from distrust among Yemenis themselves. A Yemeni who wants to tell a foreigner something proposes that the visitor might want to use the bathroom, a ruse to escort him away from a government driver assumed to be in the pay of the East German-style State Security organization.

Top government leaders admit visitors--including colleagues--into their offices only after the visitors are frisked and have deposited their weapons outside, informed Yemenis say. The care reflects a tradition of intrigue in the Aden leadership along with the possibility of genuine danger,

A group of South Yemenis arrested in February in what Aden said was a Saudi-directed sabotage plot testified that they belonged to the National Unity Army. Its leader, Hussein Osman Oshal, is a former commander of the South Yemeni Army and is believed to live now in Saudi Arabia.

The last South Yemeni foreign minister, Mohammed Saleh Motei, was executed recently for what the government said were "financial contacts" with Saudi Arabia. Foreign observers here interpreted that to mean taking money as part of an antigovernment plot.