Southern Yemen: 70% favor secession poll shows
The Yemeni Center for Civil Rights announced Friday that a public opinion poll found that an overwhelming majority of southern Yemenis favor independence.
At a press conference, the center’s director, Nouradinne Azizi, said 70% of Yemenis living in the territory of the former People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) favor secession from the unified Yemen state.
The PRDY unified with its northern neighbor, the Yemeni Arab Republic (YAR) in 1990. Since 1994’s civil war, southerners say the former PDRY was treated as the spoils of war and essentially looted and occupied by the forces of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who became president of the YAR in 1978.
Carried out in collaboration with the National Endowment for Democracy, polling was conducted over a year and in ten Yemeni provinces.
Southern Yemen has been embroiled in civil unrest since 2007 when a protest movement began led by retired military officers claiming economic discrimination and political marginalization.
Called “The Stay at Home Party,” southern veterans were forced into retirement after the civil war and typically received pensions much lower than their northern counterparts. Mr. Saleh’s government offered to reimburse the men in 2008 but on the condition that they sign a pledge to renounce political activity.
Growing protests were met by police violence and arbitrary arrests, which triggered more protests and the articulation of broad grievances with the unified state. Southerners began to publicly denounce widespread theft and appropriation of private and public land by northern government officials.
Another issue triggering resentment is the exclusion of southerners from state employment and college scholarships, often awarded as a function of patronage not ability in Yemen. Southerners also claim to have been excluded from the benefits of Yemen’s natural resources found primarily in the south, including now nearly depleted oil deposits. A twenty billion dollar natural gas production project recently began exports.
US Secretary of State Clinton termed instability in Yemen as a global and regional threat. Jeffrey D. Feltman, Assistant Secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said in a statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the US supports a unified, stable, democratic and prosperous Yemen.
“The ROYG and southern leaders need to engage in a political dialogue that addresses political and economic grievances that stretch back to Yemen’s unification in 1990. Decentralization offers one possible approach through which the central authority can devolve power and resources to individual governorates, encouraging local solutions to long-standing grievances,” Feltman said.
The US ramped up Yemen’s counter-terror funding to about $150 million in 2010, more than double 2009’s $67 million, following a failed attack on an airliner by Yemen’s al Qaeda in December.
An international conference hosted by the UK earlier this week drew a consensus from participants to strengthen economic and security support for President Saleh in tandem with a “commitment by the international community to supporting the Government of Yemen in the fight against Al Qaeda and other forms of terrorism.”
The outcome was slammed by Yemen’s opposition party alliance, the Joint Meeting Parties, which said the conference was designed to save President Saleh and not the nation itself. They said the international community’s stance in support of Mr. Saleh, “’depleted the last remaining hopes of Yemen and Yemeni people for a serious and real help from the international community.”