Houthis Endorse Government as South Yemen Prepares to Secede

Having subdued an insurgency in the north, Yemen faces the possibility of secession in the south.

The old city of Sana'a, Yemen at nightfall, April 20, 2007
The old city of Sana’a, Yemen at nightfall, April 20, 2007 (Richard Messenger)

Shia Houthis from the north of Yemen endorsed a new government last week after months of fighting, but separatists in the former South Yemen remain determined to break away.

According to a report in the Yemen Times, the Southern Movement intends to declare independence by the end of November. Defense sources told the newspaper Yemeni troops had been flown into the Aden and Lahij Governorates, both situated on the Gulf of Aden, in anticipation of a separatist uprising there.

The possibility of a southern secession comes as the Shia insurgency in the northwest finally appears to have subsided. Houthi rebels from what was the Yemen Arab Republic before unification in 1990 marched on Sana’a, the capital, in September and forced the government of Prime Minister Mohammed Basindawa to step down. The unrest led to clashes south and west of the capital with Sunni tribesmen allied to Al Qaeda.

Last Thursday, the Houthis accepted the formation of a new government. But they did not withdraw their forces from Sana’a.

In an attempt to appease separatists in the north and the south, President Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi has proposed to split his country into six autonomous regions. The formerly communist South Yemen would be divided into two: Aden in the west and Hadhramaut in the east. The more populous former North Yemen would be split into four regions.

Southerners reject the partition plan, fearing it would dilute their authority, especially over oil reserves in the Hadhramaut area.

Hadi took over from former strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012 under a transition negotiated by Yemen’s powerful neighbor, Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis, threatened by Yemen’s unification, backed the southern independence movement during the 1994 civil war. Their regional nemesis, Iran, supports the Houthi insurgency in the north, making Yemen a battleground in the regional struggle for influence between the Middle East’s two biggest powers.

The situation is further complicated by the presence of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is seen as the most dangerous branch of the terrorist network, in central south Yemen. The United States, which support Hadi, carry out airstrikes with unmanned drones against Al Qaeda members there. Hadi’s government maintains that the Al Qaeda group coordinates its operations with the separatists. Separatist leaders deny any connection and claim they reject violence.

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