Saturday, 15 May 2010

Unity or separation in Yemen?

Aden- By Nasser Arrabyee/15/05/2010

On May 22, the Yemenis will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the unity between the South and the North. The President Ali Abdullah Saleh said he would deliver a speech on this occasion to open a new chapter in Yemen's history and let bygones be bygones.

However, calls for separation by disgruntled groups in the south have been in rise recently.

The hardliners of separatists say the north is occupying the south and they will struggle for independence.

The moderates and politicians want only to return to the peaceful unity, which they say, ended by the civil war of 1994 that was only four years after the unity was proclaimed.

The real problem between the south and the north started after this war, which portrayed the north as a winner and the south as a loser.

Tens of thousands of military and security people from the southern army were retired or marginalized after that bloody war. The government formed committees fix the problems of the retired people and it said all retired people were returned to their jobs and their rights were given.

The lands, which were nationalized by the Socialist Party, which ruled the south before unity, were redistributed unfairly after the war, according to the activists of the southern movement.

Most of these lands went to corrupt officials, mostly from the north. An official report issued by a fact-finding committee said 15 corrupt officials were behind the problem of the lands in the south. The corruption in the issue of the lands and the issue of the military and security persons from the former southern army who were marginalized were the main factors behind the southern movement according the observers and the movement activists.

Furthermore, observers say the issue of the lands was even more complicated because of two things: the nationalization after the Socialist Party took power in the south early 1970s and the redistribution of the same lands after the war of 1986 between two Socialist factions. The faction that lost the war of 1986 went to the north of Yemen.

The losing faction led by Ali Nasser Mohammed, the President of the south before the 1986 war , who is now in exile in Syria, was marginalized when unity was proclaimed in 1990 by the northern President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the southern leader of the winning faction Ali Salem Al Baidh.

However, four years later, another war erupted between the two partners of the unity which ended with the defeat of the secessionists led by Ali Salem Al Baidh who was exiled to Oman where he spent about 15 years silent before he returned to lead the secessionists from Germany in April 2009.

After the war of 1994, the faction of Ali Nasser Mohammed was given the upper hand to deal with the issue of lands in the south.

The Gulf News correspondent visited the southern provinces of Yemen where he met representatives of separatists, leaders of the oppositions, government officials, and independent and normal people to know what's happening in the south nowadays.

"They (the Sana'a regime) declared the war on the south in April 1994, that war ended the peaceful unity," said Kasem Dawoud, the Aden secretary of the Socialist Party, which ruled the south before unity.

Dawoud accused the President Saleh's regime of using Al Qaeda against them in the all-out 70-day war of 1994.

"The regime brought Al Qaeda from Afghanistan to fight us, and they are still allies until now," He said in an interview.

When asked why the south movement only started in 2007, Dawoud said they were waiting for reforms, "correction of the path of unity, and removing the impacts of the war."

"Unity is the dignity of Yemenis, but we need now a new format for it," He said.

"The solution now is the return to the genuine partnership agreement on which the peaceful unity was proclaimed in 1990," said Dawoud who refuses separation but also refuses the current unity.

The separatist groups, although receiving support from a separatist group of the outside opposition, they do not have a unified internal leadership. They call themselves peaceful movement despite the repeated clashes between them and the security forces.

Many northerners were killed by such groups only because they were northerners, and many shops and other properties of people of northerner origins were plundered and burnt, since the movement started in April 2007.

Zahra Saleh, 32, is an activist and leading woman within the disgruntled groups that call for separation.

The holder of bachelor degree (BA) unemployed since her graduation five years ago, Zahra said the separatist groups would use the weapons to restore their former southern state if peaceful struggle does not work.

"What we want is our former state of the south. We will use the weapons if injustice continues; we can purchase the weapons from the army," said Zahra who was completely covered in her black veil 'Sharshaf'.

She only agreed to make the interview in a secret place because she was under strict monitoring as she said.

However, the normal people in the street of Aden city have different views from those of the politicians who talk about the correction of unity path and removing the impact of the war and those groups who call for separation even by force.

The taxi driver Yasser, 30 said," We do not believe the separatists, we know them well, if they separated they will return to killing each other, their history is bloody."

The separatist groups now are divided into the same two divisions at least which their Socialist party fell into in January 13, 1986 when a war between two factions killed more than 10,000 people including most of the top socialist leaders.

The high school student, Mohammed, 18 said, "We are with the unity, but there are problems that must be fixed."

Jamail Al Laithi, 42, a government employee, with only 150 US dollar monthly salary said," We do not want separation, but we do want a new government, and a new president."

The government officials keep saying these groups who call for separation are very few and do not represent the majority of south which is about 5 million out of the 24 million population of the whole country.

Some independent organizations and individuals also play down the impact of these groups as individuals who lost personal interest.

Rashad Sultan, secretary general of the Yemen First Organization, a recently established local NGO that supports unity said, "The separatists do not represent the south, they are only small groups of those who lost their interests."

"We do not have exact statistics, but you could estimate yourself if I told you that the south is about 60 districts in its all six provinces and those groups are only in four districts in Al Dhale'e, Lahj, and Abyan provinces," said the secretary of the pro-government organization.

Mr. Sultan said in an interview in his office in Aden, the protests in the south would disappear if economic situation improved.

"The reason behind the movement is economic, if this issue is fixed, you will not see anyone protesting," he said.

Aden is no longer open as it was before the unity. Restrictions on women, for instance, are even more than the relatively conservative northern city of Sana'a. Religious extremism has been in rise in this city, which was always famous for tolerance and coexistence of various cultures and religions.

Khaled Wahbi, director of Sairah district in Aden city, said there are "dark forces" trying to fight everything modern under the justification of fighting vice and protecting virtue.

The majority of people in Aden, however, refuse such extremism according to the government official Wahbi.

"Some religious extremists, for example, destroyed two a few months ago all the lights we made along the roads to the historic fortress of Sairah, they do not want to see men and women spending good time on that roads," said Wahbi in an interview in his office in Sairah.

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