Yemeni anti-government protesters hold portraits of President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a demonstration demanding the government resign in the capital Sanaa on February 10, 2014
Yemeni anti-government protesters hold portraits of President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a demonstration demanding the government resign in the capital Sanaa on February 10, 2014 © Mohammed Huwais - AFP
Yemeni anti-government protesters hold portraits of President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a demonstration demanding the government resign in the capital Sanaa on February 10, 2014
AFP
Last updated: February 11, 2014

Yemen Shiite rebels slam federation plan as unfair

Both Shiite rebels and southern independence activists in Yemen on Tuesday rejected plans for a six-region federation decided by a committee after 10 months of talks failed to reach agreement.

In the capital Sanaa, however, demonstrators turned out in numbers in support of the government's plans for the transition from the 33-year rule of president Ali Abdullah Saleh, ousted in early 2012 following 11 months of deadly protests that began three years ago.

The committee headed by President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi unveiled the federation plan on Monday, which will be inserted into the new constitution and will divide Yemen into six federal units -- four in the north and two in the south.

The promised federation was designed to address the regional grievances which have plagued Yemen.

But it failed to satisfy either southerners who want a return to the independence they enjoyed before union with the north in 1990, or Zaidi Shiite rebels in the northern highlands who have waged an-off uprising since 2004.

A spokesman for the Zaidi rebels, known as Ansarullah (Partisans of God), complained that the proposed federal borders would put four Zaidi-majority provinces, including rebel bastion Saada, in a region to be called Azal that has no significant natural resources or access to sea.

"We have rejected it because it divides Yemen into poor and wealthy" regions, said spokesman Mohammed al-Bakheiti.

"Saada has stronger cultural, social and geographical links with (coastal) Hajja, and Jawf" on the border with Saudi Arabia, incorporated into separate Tahama and Saba regions respectively, Bakheiti said.

--Southern aspirations 'unmet'--

The Southern Movement, which has campaigned for secession or at very least autonomy for the formerly independent south, said the plans for a six-region federation "do not meet the aspirations of our people in the south."

Southerners are demanding "the right of self-determination and regaining a sovereign state," said Mohammed Ali Ahmed, head of the movement's moderate wing which took part in the national dialogue before quitting in November in protest at the plans for multiple federal units in the north.

His faction had demanded a simple federation of north and south, and rejected plans for additional regions for fear they would dilute southern influence and undermine the south's claim to self-determination as a formerly independent country.

But the government feared that a straight north-south divide could set the stage for the disgruntled south to secede.

The secessionist wing of the Southern Movement boycotted the national dialogue from its launch and its activists have been involved in repeated deadly clashes with security forces across much of the region.

After the north and south united in 1990, the south broke away in 1994, triggering a brief but bloody civil war that ended with northern troops occupying the south and laying the ground for many of the region's current grievances.

In the capital, however, demonstrators took to the streets in numbers to commemorate the anniversary of the launch in February, 2011 of Arab Spring-inspired protests that were to culminate in Saleh's ouster the following year.

Demonstrators chanted slogans backing the transition and the plans for a federal Yemen. Organisers said hundreds of thousands of people took part.

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