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More Dead in Southern Yemen Clashes

Posted by FREE ADEN on June 9, 2009

Written by Rachelle Kliger
Published Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Reports from Yemen give conflicting information on what took place in the incident in Radfan, Lahij province. Some say clashes began at a checkpoint after police refused to allow people to pass with personal weapons.

Another version of the story, reported by The Media Line’s Yemen correspondent Mohammed Al-Asaadi, is that mourners gathering for a funeral procession of six others killed in previous clashes began shouting anti-unity slogans and attacking security forces.

Yemen is dealing with growing discontent in the southern part of the country. Violence erupted in May after the government set up a new security checkpoint in Radfan, angering locals, who attacked soldiers at the checkpoint. Demonstrations and protests have since spread to other areas in the south. So far, 18 southerners and security force members have been killed.

Yemen’s north and the Communist south were unified as the Republic of Yemen in 1990, but southerners are now calling for separation from the north after suffering what they claim are decades of discrimination. Northerners still dominate the government sector and the economy, and impoverished southerners harbor resentment towards the central government, claiming they are being marginalized. Some say the northerners abused the unification agreement in order to take over southerner’s resources.

Separatists in southern Yemen have become more vocal over the past couple of months but the government does not wish to separate the two regions as this will be an admittance of their failure to unite the country. “The majority of Yemenis want unity,” Al-Asaadi said. He has immediate family living in both the south and the north and claims that most Yemenis see the country as one unit. He added that apart from beefing up security forces around the areas prone to clashes, the government has not done anything to quell the violence or anti-government sentiments.

A secessionist bid by former southern leaders led to a two-month civil war in 1994, before the uprising was quashed by northern forces. Laurent Bonnefoy, a French researcher who focuses on Yemen, said the Yemeni government was concerned about the civil war in 1994, and did not want it repeated.

“There is a strong sense of common belonging and Yemen means something to most people,” Bonnefoy told The Media Line. “The situation has been escalating since 2007 and taking different forms. The government is trying to lump together what happened in 1994 and what’s happening now,” he said, but added that the situation was in fact very different.

 “It’s not necessarily a thing about identity of north against south. It’s more that people are fed up with issues of corruption, unemployment, insecurity and repression.”

The unrest in the south opens yet another front for the Yemeni army, which has been fighting a five-year ongoing battle with rebels in the north of the country as it tries to eradicate Al-Qa’ida elements. Rebels affiliated with the Al-Houthi clan have been involved in violent clashes with government forces since 2004, in which hundreds of people on both sides have been killed. Al-Houthi fighters belong to the Zaidi minority, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam. They wish to restore the Zaidi imamate to Yemen after it was overthrown in a coup in 1962. They also feel the Yemenite government is too closely allied with the United States.

 The United States is interested in seeing Yemen stable and unified, since any instability there could hamper efforts to fight international terror organizations and spill over into neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. Embassy in San’aa, the Yemeni capital, called on the Yemeni government, civil society organizations and concerned citizens of Yemen to engage in dialogue to identify and address grievances.

The embassy reiterated the U.S.’s support of a stable, unified and democratic Yemen


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