Separatist leaders in former South Yemen rejected political reforms signed into law by President Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi on Monday that give the region more autonomy.
“We will continue our peaceful struggle until we achieve independence,” said Nasser al-Nawba, founder of the southern Hirak separatist movement.
Under the system Hadi approved after months of negotiation, the country, which is perched on the southwestern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, will be split into six autonomous regions. The formerly communist South Yemen is to be divided into two regions: Aden in the west and Hadhramaut in the east. The more populous former North Yemen will be split into four regions.
Southerners fear that the division will dilute their authority, especially over oil reserves in the Hadhramaut area.
“What has been announced about the six regions is a coup against what had been agreed at the dialogue,” Mohammed Ali Ahmed, a former South Yemen interior minister who returned from exile in March 2012, told the Reuters news agency.
Ahmed withdrew from the talks late last year with three other Yemeni parties who rejected the proposal to turn the country into a federation. The remaining factions then gave Hadi more time to draft a new constitution that will form the basis for elections due next year.
Hadi, the country’s former vice president, took over from Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had been the united Yemen’s only president, in 2012.
The 1990 union between the two Yemens proved problematic just four years later when a civil war broke out. Saleh crushed a southern uprising that year that had been backed by neighboring Saudi Arabia which felt threatened by the country’s unification.
Saudi Arabia nevertheless negotiated Saleh’s resignation in the face of mass demonstrations, inspired by the “Arab Spring” in North Africa, and a powerful Al Qaeda presence in Yemen.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is seen as the most dangerous branch of the terrorist network, operates out of central south Yemen where the United States regularly carry out airstrikes with unmanned drones against its members. Yemen’s government maintains that the Al Qaeda group coordinates attacks with southern separatists. Separatist leaders deny any connection and claim they reject violence.