Arab League 'asserts its support' for Yemen unity

The Arab League secretary general, Amr Moussa, says Arab states support unity in Yemen after a meeting with Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Southern Yemeni men shout slogans and wave the flag of the former independent southern state yesterday during a demonstration to demand the restoration of the region's independence, in Lah province, 320km south of Sana'a.
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SANA'A // The Arab League secretary general, Amr Moussa, said yesterday that Arab states supported unity in Yemen after a meeting with Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to discuss the current crisis in the impoverished Arabian peninsula state, which is embroiled in insurgency in the north and unrest in the south. "The president expressed his openness to any dialogue with all Yemeni political forces inside or outside, provided that it is based on unity and stability of the country," Mr Moussa told reporters after an hour-long meeting with Mr Saleh in Sana'a.

Mr Moussa, who arrived Sana'a yesterday morning, said: "Any initiative that tackles the situation in Yemen should be based on that principle to ensure the unity, security and stability of Yemen. "[The Arab League] asserts its support for Yemen's unity, security and stability - Yemen's unity does not concern only Yemenis but all Arabs, and what's important is a dialogue among everyone for the unity and the stability of Yemen," Mr Moussa added.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Egypt's foreign minister, said on Sunday that Egypt supported the Yemeni government and people in the face of the northern rebellion and rejected foreign interference, alluding to Iran, which is alleged to be funding Shiite rebels in Yemen. "We reject any kind of rebellion and we reject any foreign interference [in Yemen]. Egypt is wholly supporting - with all its power and capabilities - its sister Yemen," he told reporters in Sana'a.

Mr Saleh's government is facing threats from al Qa'eda as well as economic difficulties in addition to the insurgency in the north and unrest in the south. Thousands took to the street yesterday in the southern provinces of Dhale, Lahj and Abyan calling on Mr Moussa to push for the restoration of the independence of the former southern republic, which was united with the tribal-dominated north in 1990. The deal between the People's General Congress and the Yemeni Socialist Party fell apart and a political crisis developed, which led to civil war in 1994.

"Tens of thousands went to the street of Radfan [in Lahj] and demanded Amr Moussa support them in restoring the independence of the south. They repeated slogans that call for independence and brandished flags of the former south," said Yaser Hasan, an eyewitness. Protesters also held up posters with pictures of those killed in previous clashes with police. Dozens have been killed and injured in the surge of violent protests in the south since April and hundreds of others were arrested. The protesters also demanded the release of those prisoners.

Southerners complain that the partnership that followed unification in 1990 was destroyed by the 1994 civil war. For the past three years, the southern part of Yemen has been hit by protests over economic and political marginalisation. In the north, fighting has raged between government forces and al Houthi rebels in the province of Sa'ada and Harf Sufian district in neighbouring Amran province since the government launched a major offensive against the rebels on August 11. The rebels say they suffer religious discrimination by Sunni fundamentalists who have gained in strength because of Mr Saleh's close ties to Saudi Arabia, which adheres to a puritanical form of Sunni Islam.

Both government and rebel ceasefire offers since the fighting broke out have collapsed with each side blaming the other. Mr Saleh said last week that his government was ready to fight the rebels for six years, if needs be. Yemen's army said in a statement late on Monday that four rebels were killed and two bomb-making workshops were destroyed in Sa'ada province, the rebel stronghold. It also said 12 rebels were captured around Sa'ada city.

The rebels who have been fighting an intermittent war since 2004 said on Monday they shot down a government Su-29 jet in al Anad in Sa'ada. The al Houthis disseminated yesterday a video clip sent via e-mail to local journalists in which they showed the wreckage of the warplane. The Yemeni defence ministry said the Sukhoi plane, the second since last Friday, crashed due to technical faults. The government accused the Zaidi rebels, who adhere to an offshoot of Shiite Islam, of fomenting sectarian division and seeking to restore a northern Zaidi imamate, which was overthrown in 1962. * With additional reporting by Reuters