Is South Yemen Preparing to Declare Independence?

  • Share
  • Read Later
AFP / Getty Images

Anti-government protesters in Aden, Yemen, call for the ouster of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, April 26, 2011.

Yemen's flag of three horizontal bars of red, white and black is a recognizable symbol throughout most of the country, flown by anti-government protesters and regime supporters alike. But in Yemen's southern port city of Aden, hardly a single Yemeni flag is flown without the triangular, sky-blue badge and red star of the socialist party hastily spray-painted on its left side, recreating the banner of the now defunct People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, which once ruled a region that makes up roughly two-thirds of Yemen.

The military personnel loyal to the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh are distinctly absent in Aden. Unlike Yemen's capital where anti-government banners and signs are found only near Sana'a University, the port city is emblazoned with anti-government graffiti on walls, shops and even across the high security walls of now empty government buildings. Slogans like "Get out Ali, you dog. Long live the South" can be read up and down the Mu'alla district of the city where anti-regime protesters have blocked off the entire road, one of Aden's largest and busiest. While some of South Yemen's protesters support unity under a new government, most demand a free and independent state. Broken up bricks and shattered concrete slabs litter the street as children play soccer among the ruins, the evidence of fighting between protesters and military that took place as recently as last month.

But Saleh's army is now a rare sight, if not altogether invisible, and covert foes have emerged to fill the vacuum. Once operating out of the shadows of the ancient volcano towering over Aden, South Yemen's Southern Movement, known as the "Harak", has exploded from its hiding places to stand proudly and defiantly against the ailing President (who continues to recuperate in Saudi Arabia from wounds suffered from an assault on his palace) and his northern regime, demanding a return of sovereignty to the area. "If the Harak declared independence, would soldiers obey orders to travel to the south and enforce unity? No. The soldiers that haven't been shipped off by Sana'a to fight the tribes wouldn't go up against the entire south," says Mohsen M. Bin Farid, Secretary General of the RAY party, South Yemen's first independent political organization. Indeed, the regime's military is not only engaging rebel tribesmen in the north and Islamist militants in the south but is divided into factions facing off against each other in the capital, players in the dangerous game of succession unfolding in Sana'a.

As that unfolds, the Harak is looking to seize the opportunity of a weakened central government in Sana'a to reassert South Yemen's claim to independence — and once again split the country the U.S. and the West has supported as a bulwark against Al-Qaeda. South Yemen and North Yemen were united in 1990 to form the Republic of Yemen following almost 40 years of separation. But after just four years, the fragile union was torn apart by civil war. Saleh drew first blood with a relentless aerial bombardment of Aden before dragging the south back into a unified state through sheer military domination.

  1. Previous
  2. 1
  3. 2