War pushes Ye­men to par­ti­tion

Gulf Arabs sup­port south­ern forces, op­pose split

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ye­men has en­dured thou­sands of air strikes and the deaths of more than 10,000 peo­ple in a 19-month war that has also un­leashed hunger on the des­per­ately poor coun­try - but its big­gest chal­lenge may be yet to come. The con­flict has led to Ye­men’s de facto par­ti­tion, with ri­val armies and in­sti­tu­tions in the north and south, and could mean the map of the Mid­dle East will have to be re­drawn. A three-day truce to al­low in more hu­man­i­tar­ian aid and pre­pare a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment col­lapsed last week, re­flect­ing dead­locked ef­forts to end the stale­mated war.

But be­hind the com­bat­ants’ dis­agree­ments over how to share power, Ye­men’s fu­ture as a uni­fied state ap­pears in­creas­ingly in doubt. Such a pos­si­bil­ity ap­peared re­mote when a coali­tion of Arab states be­gan launch­ing air strikes in March 2015 to re­store to power Pres­i­dent Abd Rabbu Man­sour Al-Hadi, driven from the cap­i­tal, Sanaa, by the Ira­nian-al­lied Houthi move­ment in 2014. It seems less fan­ci­ful now. The Houthis’ rise to power in the north has pro­voked a re­vival of south­ern sep­a­ratism, a move­ment that sees the frac­tur­ing of state power as its mo­ment to break away.

At the same time, the south and its ma­jor city, Aden, serve as a base for the in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized govern­ment, which is try­ing to take back na­tional con­trol even as it man­ages an un­easy al­liance with the se­ces­sion­ists. Ye­men was once split be­tween a pro-Soviet state in the South and a re­pub­lic but­tressed by armed tribes in the North. A south­ern bid to se­cede failed in 1994 when the north restored unity by force. Many south­ern­ers now be­lieve their time has come af­ter two decades of what they see as marginal­iza­tion within the uni­fied state, and the plun­der­ing of mostly south­ern oil re­serves by cor­rupt north­ern tribal sheikhs and politi­cians.

‘The blood of her sons’

South­ern sol­dier Faisal Al-Salmi says he and his com­rades are ready to die to be rid of the north­ern­ers. “We have be­come an in­de­pen­dent state thanks to God and the lead­er­ship of the Arab coali­tion ... south­ern lands have been lib­er­ated by the blood of her sons and have loosed the bonds of unity which brought only ter­ror­ism, crony­ism, and the loot­ing of the peo­ple’s wealth,” Salmi told Reuters.

Now the two peo­ples sel­dom dare to cross mine-strewn front lines and the rugged moun­tains separat­ing se­cu­rity forces fly­ing dif­fer­ent na­tional flags. But a split could bring more in­sta­bil­ity along one of the world’s busiest ship­ping lanes, per­haps by set­ting the scene for a fight over the south’s oil­fields, or by trig­ger­ing, as in 1994, ef­forts by the north to dom­i­nate the south. For now, both sides ap­pear to be set­ting up par­al­lel in­sti­tu­tions that could pave the way for an en­dur­ing di­vorce. The govern­ment said it moved to Aden from Saudi ex­ile in Septem­ber while the Houthis formed their own govern­ment in Sanaa this month. Seek­ing to bar the Houthis from us­ing state funds to fi­nance their war ef­fort, Hadi or­dered cen­tral bank to be moved to Aden - which will hurt the Houthis but risks eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity and even famine. “The Houthis re­al­ize they prob­a­bly won’t re­con­quer south­ern lands, so have strength­ened their base with its own ad­min­is­tra­tion, while the govern­ment wants as many state tools un­der its con­trol and serv­ing its in­ter­ests as pos­si­ble,” said Ye­meni an­a­lyst Farea AlMus­limi. “But moves like these deepen dis­trust on both sides and de­lay ne­go­ti­a­tions which ev­ery­body re­al­izes are the only way to end the con­flict,” he added.

Para­dox­i­cally, nei­ther ri­val ad­min­is­tra­tion says it seeks a par­ti­tion but rather styles it­self the le­git­i­mate heir to a uni­fied coun­try to fol­low the war. While Hadi may wish to ex­tend his writ to Sanaa, the army com­man­ders who have built up south­ern forces and made progress against Al-Qaeda and Is­lamic State are veteran se­ces­sion­ist guer­ril­las with no in­ter­est in the North. De­spite fi­nan­cial and mil­i­tary sup­port to these break­away south­ern units, key coali­tion coun­tries Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates will seek to avoid a split.

“We re­al­ize that they have their own in­ter­ests in sup­port­ing us be­cause our forces are ef­fec­tive against the Houthis,” a south­ern politi­cian told Reuters on con­di­tion of anonymity. “They are wor­ried that a break-up of Ye­men into two states on their bor­ders will lead to in­sta­bil­ity, but we know that sep­a­ra­tion is the only way to make a just peace.” But se­nior Houthi of­fi­cial Mo­hammed Ab­dul Salam ac­cused the United Arab Emi­rates, which is in­flu­en­tial in the south, of en­cour­ag­ing sep­a­ratism to ad­vance its war goals. “The hered­i­tary rulers of the UAE are clearly and bla­tantly ad­vanc­ing a sep­a­ratist agenda,” Ab­dul Salam said this month.

Vi­able?

The coali­tion in­sists its aim is to re­store a na­tional govern­ment for the whole coun­try in Sanaa, in the shape of Hadi’s in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized ad­min­is­tra­tion. Whether the North or South would be vi­able states is open ques­tion. Deeply im­pov­er­ished and be­set by tribal feuds and mil­i­tant at­tacks even be­fore the war, Ye­men’s econ­omy shrank by about 28 per­cent in 2015, ac­cord­ing to govern­ment sta­tis­tics. An Emi­rati-backed rout of Al-Qaeda mil­i­tants at their base in the port of Mukalla in April cheered south­ern­ers, but bomb­ing at­tacks con­tinue to tar­get se­cu­rity lead­ers and bases, while re­gional rifts and squab­bles over strat­egy among se­ces­sion­ist lead­ers cloud the way for­ward. — Reuters

HODEIDAH, Ye­men: Ye­me­nis re­cover the body of a man at a de­ten­tion cen­tre hit by Saudi-led coali­tion air strikes in Al-Zaidia district of the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah. — AFP

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