Political Analysis

On Independence Anniversary, Southerners Demand Separation

National Yemen

Southern Movement representatives address a crowd of supporters at an open air meeting in Aden’s Crater district. Current Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s invitations to participate in the upcoming National Dialogue Conference – less than a month away and intended to bring Yemen’s disparate political factions and parties together – have been rebuffed by Southern Movement leadership members. One prominent Southern Movement leader demanded that the ‘southern question’ be the only item on the conference’s agenda as a precondition for participation.

Asma al-Mohattwari  

One year ago, President Hadi reported that people would not accept any compromise on the southern issue or Yemeni unity.

A whole year has passed and still southerners are demanding to be an independent country. On the 47th Anniversary of Independence Day, 30 November 2014, Hadi met with the Committees that address those excluded from their jobs and properties  to discuss the issues of southerners. Hadi returned 19,047 southerners to their jobs, including 14,547 to the ministries of defense and interior.

His actions came ahead of the 13th of November; the day set by southerners in Aden and Mukalla as a last day for authorities to achieve their demands. Their three main objectives are to release southern detainees, to expel northern staff in the military, security, and civilian facilities in the South and to stop international oil companies in Hadramout and Shabwa from dealing with the government and deal directly with the south.

Fuad Rashid, the Secretary of the Supreme Council of the Southern Movement, said that these demands would improve the standard of living in the south.

South Yemen achieved freedom from the United Kingdom on 30 November 1967. North Yemen achieved its freedom on 1 November 1918 from the Ottoman Empire. Both North and South Yemen were united as the two sides of the country reunified  as Republic of Yemen in 1990. South Yemen was referred to as the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen.

In 1838, Sultan Muhsin bin Fadl of the nearby state of Lahej ceded 194 km² (75 sq. miles), including Aden, to the British. On 19 January 1839, the British East India Company landed Royal Marines in Aden to occupy the territory and stop attacks by pirates against British shipping to India. It then became an important trading hub between British India and the Red Sea, and following the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 it became a coaling station for ships en route to India. Aden was ruled as part of British India until 1937, when the city of Aden became the Colony of Aden. The Aden hinterland and Hadramout to the east formed the remainder of what would become South Yemen and was not administered directly by Aden but was tied to Britain by treaties of protection with local rulers of traditional polities that, together, became known as the Aden Protectorate. Economic development was largely centered in Aden, and while the city flourished, the states of the Aden Protectorate stagnated.

In 1963, Aden and much of the Protectorate were joined to form the Federation of South Arabia with the remaining states that declined to join, mainly in Hadramout, forming the separate Protectorate of South Arabia. Both of these polities were still tied to Britain with promises of total independence in 1968. Two nationalist groups, the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY) and the National Liberation Front (NLF), began an armed struggle on 14 October 1963 against British control and, with the temporary closure of the Suez Canal in 1967, the British began to withdraw. One faction, the NLF, was invited to the Geneva Talks to sign the independence agreement with the British. Ironically, Britain, who during its occupation of Aden signed several treaties of protection with the local sheikhdoms and emirates of the Federation of South Arabia, excluded them in the talks and thus the agreement stated “…the handover of the territory of South Arabia to the (Yemeni) NLF…”. Southern Yemen became independent as the People’s Republic of South Yemen on 30 November 1967, and the National Liberation Front consolidated its control in the country.

In June 1969, a radical Marxist wing of the NLF gained power and on 1 December 1970, reorganized the country as the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. Subsequently, all political parties were amalgamated into the National Liberation Front, renamed the Yemeni Socialist Party, which became the only legal party. The People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen established close ties with the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, East Germany, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Years passed and the North and South of Yemen united. The Republic of Yemen (ROY) was declared on May 22, 1990 with Ali Abdullah Saleh becoming President and Ali Salim al-Beidh Vice President. Greater Yemen had been politically united for the first time in centuries. A unification of the two countries’ political and economic systems was to take place over 30 months. In that time, a unified parliament was formed and a unity constitution was agreed upon. Elections were held in April 1993.

Vice President Ali Salim Al-Beidh withdrew to Aden in August 1993 and said he would not return to the government until his grievances were addressed. These included northern violence against his Yemeni Socialist Party, as well as the economic marginalization of the south. Negotiations to end the political deadlock dragged on into 1994. The government of Prime Minister Haydar Abu Bakr Al-Attas, the former PDRY Prime Minister, became ineffective due to political infighting.

On April 27, a major tank battle erupted in Amran, near San’a. Both sides accused the other of starting it. On May 4, the southern air force bombed San’a and other areas in the north; the northern air force responded by bombing Aden. President Saleh declared a 30-day state of emergency, and foreign nationals began evacuating the country. Vice President al-Beidh was officially dismissed. South Yemen also fired Scud missiles into San’a, killing dozens of civilians. Prime Minister Haidar Abu Bakr al-Attas was dismissed on May 10 after appealing for outside forces to help end the war.

Southern leaders seceded and declared the Democratic Republic of Yemen (DRY) on 21 May 1994. No international government recognized the DRY. In mid-May, northern forces began a push toward Aden. The key city of Ataq, which allowed access to the country’s oil fields, was seized on May 24. The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 924 calling for an end to the fighting and a cease-fire. A cease-fire was called on June 6, but lasted only six hours; concurrent talks to end the fighting in Cairo collapsed as well. The north entered Aden on July 4. Supporters of Ali Nasir Muhammad greatly assisted military operations against the secessionists and Aden was captured on 7 July 1994. Most resistance quickly collapsed and top southern military and political leaders fled into exile.

Now, southern people are demanding the separation to make Yemen two countries again.