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Arrests, Detentions, Death in Yemen's Southern Conflict

Heather Murdock | Aden, Yemen 23 February 2010

In southern Yemen, more than 80 suspected supporters of a growing separatist movement have been arrested, after reports of deadly ambushes, roadblocks and attacks on civilian targets.

For many southern Yemenis, this is a song of freedom. "I have been stamped on in your land, and despised," sings Abood Khawaja, an artist who lives out of the country to avoid arrest, and has become a symbol of Yemen's southern separatist movement.

Like southern Yemeni flags, and money used before the country was unified in 1990, Khawaja's music is banned. Before his funeral on Monday, Southern Movement leaders said Faris al-Dhama, an activist and a cousin of a general of the now-outlawed South Yemen army, was arrested while listening to his music.

His friends say he was later shot and killed while in detention. Yesterday, at least 11 people were arrested at protests that accompanied al-Dhama's funeral. State run news says the arrests were for chanting anti-unity slogans and disturbing public security. Activists say the arrests, and the death of al-Dhama were blatant government oppression.

"We don't know why they are killing us. They are killing us with reason and without reason. We are protesting. We would like to tell the people that we are here. We are a republic. We are independent republic. We are not Yemeni we are South Arabia," said a separatist.

Droves of people came from every corner of the region to mourn and protest the death of al-Dhama, according to Southern Movement activists. The government later reported that one soldier was shot while driving home through the protests, and a bomb was diffused in a residential neighborhood.

This comes after a recent government sweep, where 80 suspected separatists where arrested. State run news says separatists killed two officers, including a senior official, and wounded three others. In recent weeks, separatists are also accused of closing roads, setting fires, and attacking businesses owned by northern Yemenis.

When Yemen became unified in 1990, southerners originally supported the agreement. They later complained the unity was an excuse for the north to grab resources, jobs and tax money, including most of the country's oil wealth. North and south fought a bitter civil war in 1994. It ended in a victory for the central government, and what many southerners now call the "northern occupation."

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