Saturday, 9 May 2009

Yemen, make or breakState

corruption and unheard grievances have Yemen on the edge of a secessionist civil war, writes Nasser Arrabyee

South Yemen has been engulfed in violence since last April. Restive groups want to secede from the north on the grounds that they are politically "marginalised" by the central government that united with the south in 1990

On 27 April, southern groups celebrated the "declaring [of] the war against the south", pointing to a speech by President Ali Abdullah Saleh of 27 April 1994, after which civil war broke out.

Two days before the groups' celebrations, which turned to violence and riots in at least four

provinces in which dozens of people were killed and injured, President Saleh warned of a new civil war if calls for separation continue.

"Yemen, Allah forbid, will not divide into two partitions, south and north, but into villages and

small states, and people will be fighting with each other from door to door and from window to window," Saleh said in a large rally held in Sanaa 27 April 2009 and that brought together state officials and military and security commanders, notably from the south.

The marginalisation felt by southern groups is mainly expressed, since early 2006, in two major issues: the retirement or exclusion of thousands of military, security, and civil officials from their employment after the war of 1994; and the issue of lands in the south that were plundered by corrupted, influential officials after the war.

President Saleh and other officials admit to some mistakes, especially on these two issues, but say all wrongs must be corrected in the framework of unity. Saleh said his government treated the issue of retirees with 52 billion Yemeni Rials ($125 million). In 2007, Saleh formed special committees to fact find on the two major issues. The committees finally recommended that Saleh get rid of 15 senior officials who were responsible. However, not one of the 15 officials named was held accountable until now.

Tareq Al-Fadhli, a prominent southern tribal sheikh in Abyan, joined the groups of south movement only last month after he served as adviser to President Saleh since 1994. Al-Fadhli sponsored in his hometown of Zunjubar, 27 April, a large rally in which he called for unity in the south to "Drive away the northern occupation and have southern independence." The state-run media responded by saying that Al-Fadhli, a former Jihadist in Afghanistan, was "the biggest plunderer of the lands in the south".

Mohammed Al-Dhahri, politics professor at Sanaa University, says that what's going on in Yemen now is a crisis of partnership -- a national integration crisis, and economic and legislation crisis. "Shy official recognition of this crisis is not enough," he said.

Separation calls also receive political and media support from outside Yemen, mainly from socialist leaders who have been living in Arab Gulf countries since the civil war of 1994.

The government said it requested that the governments of Saudi Arabia and Oman hand over leaders who are politically supporting the southern movement. The most important three are Ali Saleh Al-Baidh, former president of the south, in Oman, Ali Nasser Mohammed, former president, in Syria, and Haidar Abu Bakar Al-Attas, former prime minister, in Saudi Arabia.

President Saleh accuses them of trying to push Yemen into new wars and of being agents of the British.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al-Querbi said in a meeting with Arab ambassadors in Sanaa last Sunday that calls for separation pose a threat not only to Yemen but the whole region. "Any action or speech that touches Yemen's unity is a red line," he said.

It appears that President Saleh's regime, faced also with the three challenges of armed rebellion in the north, growing Al-Qaeda activity, and the fall of oil prices that cover more than 75 per cent of the state's budget, depends much on regional and international support.

The United States said it supports Yemen's unity and stability, calling on Yemenis to solve their problems through dialogue not violence.

A press release issued by the US Embassy in Sanaa on Sunday read: "The United States was one of the first countries to recognise the newly unified Yemen in 1990. During the 1994 Civil War, the United States was a strong supporter of Yemen's unity and called for a ceasefire and negotiations between the opposing sides."

The United States believes that Yemen's unity depends on its ability to guarantee every citizen equal treatment under the law, and the opportunity to participate fully in the political and economic life of the nation, the release added.

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