Yemen offers talks with separatists as unrest flares

Yemen offers talks with separatists as unrest flares
# 09 March 2010 22:50 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. Yemen, under international pressure to quiet domestic unrest and focus its sights on al Qaeda, has offered to hold talks with southern separatists and hear their grievances, state media said on Tuesday, APA reports quoting “Reuters”.

The move by President Ali Abdullah Saleh follows an escalation in violence on both sides in south Yemen that has left a trail of dead and wounded in recent weeks even as insurgent violence elsewhere in the country fades.

North and South Yemen united in 1990, but many in the south -- home to most of Yemen’s oil facilities -- complain northerners have seized resources and discriminate against them.

"We say to them: Come talk with your brothers in the authority, and we will talk with you. We extend the hand of dialogue without (you) having to resort to violence or blocking roads or raising the flag of separation," Saleh said in an address at a military academy.

"I am certain the flags of separation will burn in the days and weeks ahead. We have one flag we voted on with our free will. We welcome any political demands. Come to dialogue," he said, according to the Defense Ministry’s online newspaper.

Pressure mounted on Yemen to concentrate its efforts on containing al Qaeda after the Yemen-based regional arm of the militant group claimed responsibility for a failed attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound passenger plane in December.

Western allies and neighboring Saudi Arabia fear al Qaeda is exploiting instability on multiple fronts in Yemen, where 42 percent of the population lives in poverty, to recruit and train militants for attacks in the region and beyond.

The offer for talks with separatists was not Saleh’s first.

Diplomats say previous such offers have not been followed by concrete action to address southern complaints that Sanaa neglects the southern region and treats southerners unfairly, including in property disputes, jobs and pension rights.

Some southerners also complain that Saleh’s ties to Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s biggest donor, have led the president to tolerate inroads by the kingdom’s puritanical Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam.