Yemen's southern discomfort: South Yemen, once a Soviet-backed socialist state, is up in arms seeking secession amid rising Al Qaeda violence and other woes that threaten the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Author:Blanche, Ed


YEMEN'S SOUTHERN SEPARATIST MOVEMENT IS growing ever more violent and there are concerns it may gravitate towards Al Qaeda and trigger a new civil war that will spell the end of a country that was only unified in May 1990. In recent months, southern demands for secession have swelled as anti-government protests have become more bloody.

Scores of people have been killed or wounded by troops firing on demonstrators. Hundreds have been imprisoned as demands for secession for the former Soviet-backed socialist state have spread.

Much of the south and the eastern part of the country, where Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has sanctuaries in tribal areas, is in ferment. Clashes are becoming more frequent and widespread in what secessionists now call "Al Janoob Al Har"--the Free South. There have been attempts to assassinate government ministers and even President Ali Abdullah Saleh's motorcade has been attacked.

In February, Saleh, a northerner, declared a state of emergency in Dhale, capital of the southern province of the same name, after an outbreak of protests that followed a call by separatist leader Tareq Al Fadhli for a "non-violent intifada".

Scores of people were arrested after troops came under fire and shops were torched. Separatists killed a police officer in Zanjibar in the neighbouring province of Abyan, the fourth security official assassinated in a week.

Three days later, a socialist politician believed to have been active in the separatist movement was gunned down in Zanjibar, apparently in retaliation for the murder of the policeman, underlining the regime's growing alarm.

Al Qaeda has apparently sought to stir up unrest in the south by launching attacks on government facilities. Secessionists complain the security authorities use attacks by Al Qaeda as a pretext to attack them.

After Al Qaeda operatives attacked an intelligence service headquarters in the southern port city of Aden in June, killing 11 people, security forces launched wide-ranging sweeps in the south. In August, 33 people were killed in three days of fierce clashes in the southern town of Loder in which Al Qaeda was also involved.

The government accuses the southern activists of making common cause with Al Qaeda, and after the Loder fighting claimed it had found "important documents proving collusion" between the two groups. But no conclusive evidence has been produced to support that claim.

On 4-5 September, four policemen and two separatists were killed in fighting in the southern province of Lahij when security forces established checkpoints around...

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