Source AFP and Reuters 22/05/2010
The man who led South Yemen's short-lived secession in 1994 asked the United Nations on Friday to send a commission of inquiry into what he said was the people's right to self-determination.
Ali Salem al-Baid said the UN commission should recognise "the right of the inhabitants (of South Yemen) to independence and to the reestablishment of their sovereign state with Aden as its capital."
He said in a statement ahead of Saturday's 20th anniversary of the country's first unification that separatists had "set next year as a target for independence."
South Yemen was independent from the British withdrawal in 1967 until it united with the north in 1990. An attempt to break away again in 1994 sparked a short-lived civil war that ended with it being overrun by northern troops.
Baid was vice president of unified Yemen in May 1994 when he declared independence, before going into into exile in July when northern troops entered Aden.
"The occupation regime has totally failed to bend the will of our valiant people... sixteen years after the historic decision to break with that regime," he said, referring to the 1994 secession.
He alerted the Arab world, particularly nearby Gulf monarchies, of the potential for what he called "catastrophic consequences" in Yemen, saying their "preventative intervention was an urgent requirement."
Pro-independence demonstrations have multiplied in the south in recent months amid a worsening economic situation and charges of discrimination in favour of northerners.
On his part, the president Ali Abdullah Saleh granted amnesty to imprisoned northern Shi'ite rebels and southern separatists Monday, and offered his opponents the chance to take part in the troubled country's political process.
"We welcome national partnership with all political forces in light of the constitution and law, and within the framework of a collective agreement," Ali Abdul Saleh said in a speech marking the 20th anniversary of Yemeni unity.
Saleh's offer is the furthest he has gone in his bid for reconciliation.
In his speech, Saleh said "a government could be formed from all influential political forces represented in the parliament."
North and south Yemen formally united in 1990 but many in the south, where most of impoverished Yemen's oil facilities are located, complain northerners usurp the south's resources, warp its identity and deny southerners' political rights.
Sanaa is struggling to maintain a fragile truce with northern Shi'ite rebels and curb a rising southern separatist movement that has grown increasingly violent.
Impoverished Yemen, neighbor to top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, has come under international pressure to quell domestic conflict and focus on fighting al Qaeda.
The global militant group's Yemen-based arm claimed responsibility for a failed bomb attack on a U.S.-bound plane last year, and for a suicide attack in April that failed to kill British ambassador to Yemen, Tim Torlot.
"On this great national occasion we give our directives to release all detainees imprisoned for sedition among the Houthis (Northern rebels) in Saada and also detainees who violated the law in some (southern) directorates in the provinces of Lahaj, Abyan and al Dalea," Saleh said.
Northern rebels recently said 600 from their ranks have been detained, while southern oppositionists say 108 of their members are being held. The government says it has no official record of detainment numbers for either group.
Diplomats say previous talk offers were not followed by concrete action to address oppositionists' complaints. Saleh may have been trying to pre-empt such criticisms by releasing detainees.
Calling for participation in national dialogue from political organizations "inside and outside the homeland," Saleh said such actions "reflects our keenness to turn over a new page.Last year talks stumbled when Sanaa declined to include northern rebels and southern secessionists. (Reporting by Mohamed Sudam in Sanaa and Erika Solomon in Dubai, writing by Erika Solomon, editing by Matthew Jones)