Mohammad Al-Kassim is a producer at Worldfocus. He writes here about the separatist movement in Southern Yemen – an under-reported story that could have major implications for the United States.
South Yemenis in favor of secession from the North protested around the world this week on the anniversary of an uprising against former colonial power Britain. In New York, a few hundred vocal Americans of South Yemeni descent demonstrated outside the United Nations building.
South Yemen was an independent nation after the British left in 1967. North and South Yemen unified in 1990 and a new country- the new Republic of Yemen – was born with Ali Abdullah Saleh as its leader and San’a as its capital. But the union has been uneasy and southerners have complained of being marginalized.
“We are a nation living under occupation,” said Hamza Saleh Meqbel, Vice President of TAJ (Southern Democratic Assembly), a South Yemeni political organization based in the United States.
Mr. Meqbel says the central government in the capital Sanaa has reneged on all commitments it promised and signed with the south upon unification.
“The unification treaty is invalid because the regime in Sanaa has lost its credibility. It was supposed to be a partnership, but the north has turned to occupiers and we no longer want a part of this unity.”
Ahmad al Muthana, the President of TAJ, claims that his group represents the majority of people in the south. “We are constantly in communication with our brothers in the south, we fully support them in their struggle,” he says.
So far the separatist South Yemenis have resorted to peaceful means in their quest for independence, including marches and protests. But al Muthana says, “if the regime keeps oppressing and killing our people, we will turn to arms. We have no choice.”
That sentiment was echoed by many of the protesters. On Friday, Yemen’s interior ministry banned demonstrations in the south.
The problem in the south is not the only challenge for the Yemeni government. Its forces have also been engaged in a military confrontation with Shiite rebels in the north. The Yemeni government accuses the rebels of being loyal to Iran.
An unstable Yemen may spell disaster for the rest of the world.
Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility on several attacks in Yemen against tourists and U.S. interests, most notoriously the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 in the Red Sea port of Aden.
– Mohammad al-Kassim