Pleading Yemen’s ‘southern issue’ at the British House of Commons
LONDON - Yemen’s Southern Transitional Council (STC) President Aidarus al-Zoubaidi warned against excluding his movement from the country’s political process, stressing that any lasting peace agreement must be inclusive of all segments of the population.
Zoubaidi pleaded his case at the British House of Commons in an event that focused on Yemen’s civil war and the position of the south amid the country’s competing factions.
“Our objectives in the STC are to secure a lasting political deal and we continue to work with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and his team constructively with this aim,” Zoubaidi said during the discussion organised by the Foreign Policy Centre think-tank.
He said the goals would be harder to reach if the “southern issue” and the legitimate representatives of the southern people are excluded from the political process. “This is the current risk we face now,” he said.
As far as the STC is concerned, the crisis in Yemen did not start in 2014 when Iran-allied Houthi rebels staged a coup. Rather, it dates to 1990 when the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen — South Yemen — and the Yemen Arab Republic — North Yemen — united to form one country.
“Our aspirations were to live as equal in a state committed to the rule of law, democracy and the protection of human rights, but the reality on the ground was the opposite. Sana’a followed a systemic policy of persecution and marginalisation that led to the 1994 war,” Zoubaidi said.
This misery continued for decades, he said.
Many Southern Yemenis have long said they have been exploited by northern leaders, mainly former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his associates. Anti-Saleh sentiment led to the formation of the Southern Mobility Movement in 2007, which seeks the re-establishment of South Yemen as an independent state.
Zoubaidi and current Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi also have a history of bad blood between them, stemming from Hadi’s sacking of Zoubaidi as Aden governor in May 2017. This led to Zoubaidi joining the southern separatists, who rebranded themselves as the STC movement.
With the establishment of the STC came the revival of secession rhetoric, which did not sit well with the internationally recognised government of Yemen. A statement from Hadi “categorically rejected” efforts that sought the secession of southern Yemen.
“Such moves remain baseless and will never be accepted,” the statement said, adding that the new council only served the Houthi rebels.
With fighting between STC supporters and the north erupting sporadically over the years, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia stepped in to calm tensions.
However, Zoubaidi remains adamant that matters cannot return to how they were in the past.
“The status quo before 2014 will no longer be accepted in the south,” Zoubaidi said, stressing that several objectives need to be addressed for Yemen to achieve stability.
The Stockholm Agreement signed in December by the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels must be fully implemented and concerned parties need to return to the negotiating table with the STC present to ensure that the political process is inclusive, Zoubaidi added.
“This means the United Kingdom and others must ensure that the south is represented in peace talks,” he said.
Zoubaidi underscored that all main elements of the political process must be on the table.
“The Stockholm Agreement is important but it is just one aspect,” he said. “We need to address broader issues, like justice, accountability and development needs and just as important is having the southern issues on the table and giving our people the opportunity to determine their own future.”