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Yemeni interim government apologises for Saleh's wars

Yemen's interim government apologises to southern separatists and northern rebels to encourage participation in national reconciliation talks. Hakim Almasmari reports from Sanaa

Tribesmen loyal to the Al Houthi Shiite rebel group had fought government forces for years until the uprising against former president Saleh.
Tribesmen loyal to the Al Houthi Shiite rebel group had fought government forces for years until the uprising against former president Saleh.

SANAA // Yemen's interim government has apologised to southern separatists and northern rebels for wars waged against them during the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The apology is an attempt to encourage participation in national reconciliation talks, which are part of the country's reforms ahead of elections next year.

"The coalition government, on behalf of the previous government, apologises for the war of the summer of 1994 against the southerners, and for the wars in Saada province considering them as historical mistakes that cannot be repeated," said a government statement on Wednesday.

Civil war broke out between North Yemen, which was ruled by Mr Saleh, and the south in 1994, four years after the two countries merged into one state. Mr Saleh's forces crushed the southern rebellion but the fighting killed up to 10,000 people, according to southern human rights organisations.

The government also apologised to residents of the northern Saada province for the six military campaigns its forces were involved in as they sought to destroy the Houthi Shiite rebellion between 2003-2008 in which thousands more died.

Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, Yemen's interim president, has been steering the transitional process since a popular uprising forced Mr Saleh from power in 2012.

Mr Hadi's transitional government has since struggled to contain an Al Qaeda insurgency while trying to remove Saleh loyalists from key positions.

But many Yemenis are frustrated with the slow pace of progress and the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) launched in March aims to address their grievances.

"Process is going slow but we are still waiting to see results from the dialogue. There are also certian issues the Houthis are demanding but have not seen light during the dialogue," said Ahmed Bahri, a senior official in the pro Houthi Haq Party.

The Southern Separatist Movement announced its withdrawal from the dialogue conference earlier this week, saying that the government has failed to meet their demands.

Since 2007, people in the south have protested on a weekly basis and have called for a separation from the north.

They accuse the Sanaa government of seizing property in the south and of barring southerners from top government jobs.

"This apology is not enough. The northern warlords are still powerful in the south and southerners are basically powerless in reality," said Mansoor Abdul Bari, a resident of the southern city of Aden. "I lost my job 16 years ago and have suffered raising my children over those years. An apology or even the national dialogue will not change that for the better."

Mr Hadi's government has said that the national dialogue aims to "guarantee equal rights for citizens and an equitable distribution of power and wealth".

But the dialogue has stalled since southerners withdrew. Dr Ahmed bin Mubarak, Secretary General of the NDC, said that all southern representatives would return to participate in the national dialogue in the near future.

Mohammed Abulahoum, President of the opposition Justice and Building Party, is confident that there is still hope to bridge the gap. "Both sides want positive change and have sat on the dialogue together numerous times so this is a good sign. Our duty is to help them reach an agreement for the sake of a prosperous Yemen," said Abulahoum who is also the vice president of the southern committee in the national dialogue.

"Lets not lose hope. We will build on the successes that we have accomplished. This is the only option," he said.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Reuters

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