x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Killings deepen Yemeni rift

The murders of three northerners in southern Yemen is being treated as a hate crime amid growing concern that the country's shaky unity could be fracturing.

SANA'A // The murders of three northerners in southern Yemen this month is being treated as a hate crime amid growing concern that the country's shaky unity could be fracturing. "The situation is so serious. I do not think that in any other part of the country's history [including before the north and south of Yemen united] ? was more serious than the situation now. Even during the fight between the two sides, there was no wall of hatred between the people, no northerner hated a southerner and vice versa," said Abdulrehman al Jefri, the president of the Sons of Yemen League, an opposition party. "We have warned about this wall of hatred and that actions by the government or an individual could stir up further sedition which we will not be able to prevent," Mr al Jefri said. The three men, shopkeepers, were killed in al Askariah district, in the southern province of Lahj on July 10. Yasin Hameed al Qubati, 20, was able to escape, but watched as his father, brother and uncle were shot dead. Mr al Qubati said the family had already received threats to close down their sweet shops and leave the area. But had refused and were told they had to meet with the area's unofficial headman, Ali Saif al Abdli. "We were told to meet Ali Saif al Abdli near his house in Habeel Jabr. Accompanied by three armed men, al Abdli interrogated my father, accusing him of collaborating with Yemeni intelligence and demanded that he leave the area because he was a northerner and did not belong. My father appealed to him to take everything and let us go but he insisted my father admit we are intelligence agents. Then, he ordered his men to shoot my father dead. They also killed my brother and uncle," Mr al Qubati told state-run TV. Mr al Qubati said he was wounded but managed to escape across the rugged mountains and walk through the night to safety. The government has accused the separatist movement in the south for the murders. Yaser al Yamani, the deputy governor of Lahj, called for the movement's leaders to be put on trial for the targeting of northerners. However, Naser al Khubaji, a leader in the southern movement, said the group was not involved and blamed the government for trying to foment hatred among the two peoples. "The hasty accusation of the authority to the movement's members indicates it is behind it; it should have conducted an investigation," said Mr al Khubaji. "We had condemned this heinous crime against shopkeepers. We have no enmity against our brotherly northerners; they are oppressed like southerners," Mr al Khubaji said. Mr al Khubaji said they also had no link to the murder suspect, a former military officer, who is still at large. Scores of northerner's have fled the south, particularly in Al Anad district in Lahj where several shops are owned by northerners, after being harassed and intimidated. "Most of the sweet shops in Al Anad are now closed following threats by unknown people. Whenever we go to restaurants and shops, we hear hostile words that we should leave. This is really annoying," said Fawaz al Sharabi, a northern clerk working in the southern city of Aden. In 1990, a union between the Marxist-led south and tribal-dominated north was reached. However, 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. Southerners complain any partnership following 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. Mr Saleh warned last April of the consequences of splitting Yemen and called for dialogue with leaders of the southern movement. But nothing concrete has come of it. Instead, authorities have put some of the movement's leaders on trial on charges of inciting people to act against the law and fomenting sectarian division and hatred. Abdulbaki Shamsan, a professor of political sociology at Sana'a University, said both the government and the southern movement are manipulating the murders for their own political gain. "The government is making use of the murder of three shopkeepers to mobilise angry sentiments among northerners living in the former border line villages against the southern movement. This crime also serves the southern movement for it scares the northerners in the south and this falls in line with the movement's calls for independence. Such manipulation of the incident by both sides is very dangerous to the social peace of the society," said Mr Shamsan. Mr Shamsan said southerners felt excluded and marginalised and this was causing the divisions. "Such sentiments are the most dangerous threat to the unity of the country." malqadhi@thenational.ae