Saturday, 30 May 2009

Even mountains erode

Putting off urgent reforms in Yemen is reinvigorating the secessionists, warns Nasser Arrabyee

The unrest in southern Yemen has reached a turning point with the exiled former president Ali Salem Al-Beidh declaring himself a leader for the restive groups in the south who call for separation from the north.
The declaration came from Germany on 21 May, the eve of the 19th anniversary of the unification between south and north in 1990. Al-Beidh has been living in neighbouring Oman since 1994 when his first secession attempt failed after about 70 days of devastating all-out war, but delivered his manifestor from Munich.
He says he wants to correct the mistake he made by agreeing on unity with President Ali Abdullah Saleh and return the south to the southerners, getting them out from the "trap" they were all lured into. "We were looking forward to a unified homeland which is large enough for all, but the power in Sanaa was conspiring against us," said Al-Beidh.
On the same day, President Saleh was showing his might with a military parade in the capital Sanaa saying the unity is "deep-seated like the mountains". The three main opposition parties including the Socialist Party, which ruled the south before unity, were unlikely to agree, with the political process at a standstill. They are calling for a nationwide consultation process for achieving a genuine partnership in power and wealth to protect the fragile unity.
On the same day, disgruntled demonstrators, heeding Al-Beidh's call, clashed with security forces in the southern coastal city of Aden where dozens of them were killed and injured.
Al-Beidh, in his late 60s, said after "liberation" he will hand power to the young people of groups representing diverse political, social and ideological backgrounds and he willl be only an "advisor". The groups he claims to represent include Jihadists and tribal sheikhs who were openly hostile to him and his Socialist Party in the past. He appealed to the Arab nations to exercise pressure on President Saleh's regime to withdraw the forces from the "occupied south".
Officials played down the importance of the statements Al-Beidh made, saying he previously failed to divide Yemen when he had an army and weapons and declared secession in 1994.
Saleh's regime relies on international and regional support, more specifically, the United States and Saudi Arabia. Both fear the prospect of Yemen turning to a new breeding ground of terrorism like Afghanistan and Somalia if it falls into chaos.
The statements of Al-Beidh shocked the main opposition parties who always call for dialogue that include opposition leaders outside Yemen including Al-Beidh. "He who makes business with unity will go to hell," warned Sultan Al-Atwani, chairman of the Supreme Council of the Opposition Alliance which includes the three main parties of Islamists, Socialists, and Nasserites.
The Socialist Party does not support the calls for separation, but it calls for "removing the impacts of the civil war of 1994 and correcting the path of unity". The party leaders argue against trying to dictate unity by force. They argue that the war of 1994 ended the peaceful unity which was proclaimed in 1990, and produced a forced unity which created a schism worse than secession.
A senior official from the ruling party advised President Saleh to take brave decisions for creating a genuine national partnership in power, wealth and decision-making by getting rid of all the corruption around him even among those closest to him, if he truly wants to preserve unity. "Ninety per cent of the solution of the most difficult problems is in hands of President Saleh," said Abdel-Salam Al-Ansi, a member of Saleh's advisory council.
Hundreds of angry demonstrators marched on 25 May in the streets of the southern town of Habileen demanding the release of detainees and solutions for their problems promised by a presidential committee 15 May. The security forces kept silent although some demonstrators were carrying flags of the south and pictures of the former president Al-Beidh. Some of them were also carrying guns.
This demonstration came one day after President Ali Abdullah Saleh met with representatives from Al-Habileen, Radfan and Al-Dhalee in the presidential palace in Sanaa. "I'm sure you will remain faithful to the September and October revolutions," Saleh told local council members and tribal sheikhs from those districts, the stronghold of the secession supporters.
Saleh was referring to the southern revolution against the British on 14 October 1963, and to the northern revolution against royal rule on 26 September 1962. He said that about 10,000 young men from the south have joined the army during the past six months and promising to open camps for more southerners to protect unity.
The chairman of the presidential committee assigned to negotiate with representatives of the restive groups, Abdel-Qader Helal, said, "the reasons behind the south's problems are mainly the exclusion of the Socialist Party from power, unemployment, economic deterioration, illiteracy, poverty, and illness in Yemen in general and the south in particular."
Political and electoral reforms and local rule with full powers are necessary, Helal says

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