South Yemen clashes escalate, police wound 20
Twenty people were wounded today when police opened fire on a funeral march in the restive town of Dhalie. Local reports indicated one person later died. The crowds had gathered to honor two victims killed when police broke up a anti-government protest on March 11.
Yemen launched a broad assault on its southern region earlier this month with ground troops and tanks following a US declaration that unrest in the south was a Yemeni internal affair.
In an escalating cycle of state violence, demonstrations against the siege were met with live fire, water cannons, tear gas and arrests. Cell phone communications were cut on the orders of the Ministry of Information which also ordered the seizure of al Jazeera and al Arabyia broadcast equipment.Two protesters died earlier in the week after being shot by police during a protest in Dhalie on Thursday.
Another 50 prisoners have been on a hunger strike since March 10. The men have been imprisoned for three years without a trial, News Yemen reported. On March 24, a southern oppositionist was sentenced to ten years for “spreading hatred against unity.” Ahmed Ba-Muallim, a former Member of Parliament was arrested April 15, 2009. Ba-Muallim said he would not appeal because both the court and its verdict are illegitimate. There are hundreds of political prisoners jailed in Yemen.
In an ominous note, Yemeni state media reported that al Qaeda operatives are sheltering in mountains of Dhalie and Radfan, centers of the swelling independence movement in restive south Yemen. President Ali Abdullah Saleh regularly conflates his domestic opposition with al Qaeda. Analysts have raised concerns that Yemen will launch airstrikes under the guise of counter-terrorism that instead target dissidents and oppositionists.
A Human Rights Watch statement urged the US and Yemen to “take all feasible precautions to ensure that counter terrorism operations do not harm the very people they aim to protect.” Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned about the potential for manipulation of intelligence because of Yemen’s inconsistent approach to confronting al Qaeda in the past and its history of resorting to repressive measures to quell political dissent. In December, an airstrike targeting al Qaeda killed 42 civilians.
The protests were begun in 2007 by forcibly retired military officers seeking overdue pension compensation equivalent to their northern counterparts. The state offered to make some payments if the officers pledged to refrain from political activity. The offer was rejected. The head of the Military Retired Coalition, General Nasser al Nuba, today called for an independent fact finding commission into the state’s war crimes.
Peaceful protests turned bloody when police repeatedly used live fire against the demonstrators, killing dozens. Demonstrations marred by police violence and arbitrary arrests triggered new protests. Other tactics include targeted assassinations and denial of medical services.
The Southern independence movement is a popular movement with the active support of 70% of southerners, a recent poll found. Leadership is fragmented and often quarrelsome, reflecting unresolved power struggles dating back decades.The southern narrative is based on the premise that after 1994’s civil war, unity was imposed by force and the south was plundered by northerners.
Resentment simmered for a decade as discriminatory state practices excluded southerners from employment, scholarships and development. Yemen’s oil wealth, based in the south, was looted and overt land theft by military officers and state officials left southerners with no recourse to justice.The Saleh regime has termed them apostates for a decade. Usama Bin Laden armed and funded Afghan Arabs fighting for Saleh’s forces in 1994’s civil war between north and south.