YEMEN: Amnesty welcomed, but “not enough”

Armed tribesman in Yemen/Photo: Mohammed al-Jabri/IRIN

SANAA, 24 May 2010 (IRIN) – In a televised speech on the eve of Unification Day, commemorating the merger of northern and southern Yemen on 22 May 1990, President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced an amnesty for all imprisoned southern separatists and Houthi rebels in the north.

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“On this immortalized national occasion, we order the release of all those detained on charges of rebellion in Saada and outlaws [southern activists accused of secession] in some districts of Lahj, Abyan and Dhalea governorates. We hope they benefit from this amnesty and be good citizens,” he said, without clarifying when it would come into effect.

The move was welcomed by Houthi rebels and southern activists, but analysts say it is not enough to end unrest in the country.

“The amnesty does not mean everything will be fine,” senior Yemeni journalist Nasser al-Rabee told IRIN. “To end the conflicts, the president needs to solve the other main issues. The most important for the south is restoring the genuine partnership between south and north politically and economically. For the rebels [in the north], they must be reintegrated into society and political parties.”

Saleh’s government is battling several issues, including political unrest in the south, rebellion in the north, armed tribesmen who periodically kidnap foreigners for ransom or to blackmail the government, and al-Qaeda operatives who target national and foreign staff and interests.

3,000 detainees

A security source told IRIN on condition of anonymity that nearly 3,000 people were in undisclosed jails on charges of links with the northern rebellion or southern secession attempts.

“The figure includes journalists, whom the government accuses of supporting either the rebellion or secession through their writings,” he said.

Officials of the General People’s Congress (GPC), the ruling party, described the amnesty as a turning point in the country’s political life.

“On this occasion, President Saleh wanted to turn over a page of the past, open a new page, and move to a new stage of constructive national partnership,” Tariq al-Shami, GPC spokesperson, said.

Northern welcome

Houthi supporters in the northern governorate of Saada, where a fragile ceasefire between the army and rebels has held since 11 February, welcomed Saleh’s initiative, which they said would contribute to restoring peace and stability and bring final closure to the intermittent war that began in 2004.

Mohammed Abdussalam, spokesman for the Houthis, said that while many detained rebels were released immediately after the 11 February ceasefire was announced, more than 1,000 Houthi followers were still in detention, some since 2004.

“We hope the authorities demonstrate real intents and release the rest of the detainees,” Abdussalam said.

Southern hopes

In the south, where most of Yemen’s oil facilities are located, residents complain about revenue-sharing, corruption and political rights. This has led to a rising southern separatist movement that has grown increasingly violent.

Tareq al-Fadhli, a senior Southern Movement leader, also welcomed Saleh’s amnesty, but said it is not enough to address southern concerns.

“The government must undertake to stop quelling any peaceful protests by citizens against poor living conditions. It should return plots of land grabbed by influential officials to their real owners in the south,” he told IRIN.

On 21 May, former vice-president Ali Salim al-Biedh, who has been in exile since Yemen’s civil war in 1994, urged the UN to send a fact-finding committee to southern Yemen, as he accused the government of trying to cleanse the Southern Movement.

The Yemen Post quoted him as saying: “It is the responsibility of the UN and the international community, particularly the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, to take serious action towards the case of south Yemen based on respecting the will of the people for independence and recovering their sovereign state.”


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]