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Before unification,
we were one people in two states,
but after unification,
we became two peoples in one state

al-Hirak al-Janoubi (the southern movement)

Tensions between former civil and military members of the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen and the Yemeni central government persist due to the perceived inequality between northerners and southerners. Protests in southern Yemen are common and often involve violent action on the part of the Yemeni security forces, which can spur additional violence and demonstrations.

Prior to unification, both North Yemen (YAR) and South Yemen (PDRY) were single-party states, ruled respectively by the General People’s Congress (GPC) and the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP). The aftermath of the war saw the full dismantling of the YSP (Southern) military command, as northern leadership – headed by Ali Abdullah Saleh – moved to consolidate its power, particularly within the army and security forces. Many civil servants in the south were forced to retire, including large numbers of southern military commanders, who were replaced with northern leaders from Saleh’s inner circle. The exception to this were southern leaders who had defected early – they were promoted.

Following the unification of North and South Yemen in 1990, southerners continued to perceive northern dominance in both the military and government contributed to a brief civil war in 1994, which ended with the defeat of the southern army after only a few months. In May 1994 large scale fighting broke out between military forces supporting the south and those supporting the north following a breakdown in political co-operation. Fighting continued until July when Aden fell. Since then the Government has attempted to promote reconciliation between the north and the south.

Following their defeat the Yemen government offered amnesty to officers and soldiers from the southern army and promised re-integration into the Yemen military. However, the re-integration of officers and soldiers into the Yemen army has proceeded slowly, provoking considerable resentment and unrest among southerners. Ongoing instability in southern Yemen is largely due to unresolved tensions between Yemen's northerners, who continue to hold key positions in both the government and military, and southerners who continue to accuse the Yemen government of excluding them from both government and military positions.

The deterioration of Aden's economic status and the violation of its citizens' political rights following the 1994 civil war led to the creation in 2007 of a mass peaceful movement known as al-Hirak al-Janoubi (the southern movement) that challenged former President Ali Abdullah Saleh's tight grip on power. Protests occurred intermittently throughout 2007, primarily in Yemen's southern governorates of Aden and Marib.

During 2008 there were reports of politically motivated disappearances of individuals associated with southern protests. These disappearances were generally characterized by short-term arrests and releases. Civil society groups accused the government of using sporadic disappearances to intimidate the populace. On March 31 the Political Security Organization (PSO), a security apparatus reporting to the president, raided the homes of and arrested three leaders of the southern political protests: Hassan Ahmed Baom, Ali Mounasser, and Yahya Ghalib Shuaibi. No information was provided as to their whereabouts until April 4, when a leading human rights organization gained access to them. The PSO released all three men in mid-September 2008. In March and April 2008 the PSO arrested approximately 35 other individuals related to the southern movement, including lawyers and journalists. They were reportedly held in isolation and some were moved from one prison to another to create confusion as to their whereabouts. In September President Saleh pardoned all of the detainees during Ramadan, a tradition in the country, and all were released from prison. On April 7, security forces took Nahr Abdullah Abdulmalik and other persons from a hotel in Aden allegedly because of their participation in political demonstrations and sit-ins in the south. No information was provided as to their whereabouts until April 22, when a leading human rights organization gained access to them. Abdulmalik and the others were released on May 26.

On Tuesday, April 1, 2008 the Yemeni government deployed tanks and additional troops to southern Yemen. This followed a week of demonstrations by disaffected youths and retired military officers over perceived unfulfilled government promises to reincorporate them into the Yemen military. On Sunday, March 30, rioters set fire to at least two police stations in the southern city of al-Dhale, burned military vehicles, and stormed a state-owned bank before riot police successfully dispersed the crowds. However, following their dispersal in al-Dhale, armed demonstrators closed the highway to the port city of Aden. Protests began in response to calls from the Retired Army Association of southern veterans demanding re-integration into the Yemen military. Members of the Retired Army Association told the Yemen Observer that only a small percentage of al-Dhale's population who are eligible for re-integration into the Yemen military were selected during a recent recruitment drive.

By 2009 the southern populist uprising in the six governorates of the former People's Democratic Republic of Yemen had taken on separatist overtones. What became known as the Southern Movement continued to promote independence from the "North" well into 2010, with leaders of the movement in July 2010 saying that it had been a mistake to unite the two halves in 1990. President Saleh had made it a point to say that any negotiations with the movement to address grievances would have to be on an acceptance of national unity by both parties. Control of much of southern Yemen by the central government was a matter of debate, however, and there were allegations that Al-Qaeda or its affiliates used this to their advantage, possibly with the help of southern separatists.

In 2011, with massive protests against the regime of President Saleh occurring in various parts of the country, southern separatists began to again agitate for independence. Protestors in Aden in April 2011, for example, called not only for President Saleh to resign, but also for a complete split with the northern part of the country.

After Saleh was toppled in the popular uprising of 2011, the Hirak gained momentum. By the end of 2012, the Southern Movement or Hirak, based out of the southern port city of Aden, had transformed itself from a simple alliance of disgruntled workers from the former People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) into a formidable, although divided, political bloc whose more radical elements were calling for nothing short of secession from the “northern” government in Sanaa.

Internal divisions among southerners in general has been a sensitive topic for both the committee and the Yemeni population at large. Although it is an ongoing debate, many agree that “Hirak doesn't represent all the south, and the south is not all Hiraki," a reality that made designating southern representatives to the 2013 National Dialogue Conference (NDC) a potentially explosive subject. The preparatory committee addressed that issue by announcing that 50-percent of seats will be reserved for southerners, in an apparent concession to lure Hirakis to the negotiation table. But because members of parties other than Hirak could also be considered southerners, even if they do not agree with the movement’s objectives, the last-minute effort may fall flat. Hirak’s participation in the dialogue remained up in the air.

Beyond issues of representation in the NDC, there also needed to be “on the ground” changes in order for Hirak to participate. President Hadi must send a clear signal, possibly through executive decrees resolving land disputes or reinstating pensions, that northern policy towards the south is shifting. Without these changes, Hirak’s participation is unlikely because doing so would amount to Hirak “burning themselves” in the eyes of their supporters.

Thousands of Yemenis rallied in the port city of Mukalla on 27 April 2014 to demand statehood for the formerly independent south 20 years after the crushing of a secession bid. The rally was organised by the hardline wing of the Southern Movement which is clamouring for the renewed independence of the south, 20 years after a civil war ended with its occupation by northern troops. The separatists rejected plans unveiled in February for six-unit federation in which two regions are planned for the south, one based in Mukalla and the other in the largest southern city, Aden, where a pro-independence rally also took place.

The leader of the separatist Southern Movement in Yemen said the group will announce the secession of the south from the rest of the Arab country and declare independence in a ceremony in the city of Aden on 21 May 2016. According to al-Mashhad-al-Yemeni news website, Saleh Yahya Saied, the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Revolutionary Peaceful Movement for the Liberation and Independence of the South, said time has come to announce the breakaway from Yemeni unification as "most of the territories of the south have been liberated and the establishment of a southern national army has been launched." He added that the independence document will also be unveiled in the ceremony on May 21. The port city of Aden, Yemen's second largest city, used to be the capital of a once independent South Yemen before unification in 1990. Saied further said that the document includes the formation of a national council for a transition period of two and a half years and an interim government which will be followed by elections in the south as well as the formation of a presidential council. The council will be comprised of six members where each of them will represent one of the provinces of Aden, Abyan, Lahij, Hadhramaut, Mahrah and Shabwah.

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Page last modified: 24-03-2018 18:37:39 ZULU