Yemen: autonomy or separatism?

A presidential panel in Yemen on Feb. 10 released a plan to transform the country into a "federal state of six regions" as part of its US-brokered political transition. Interim President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi convened the panel last month, at the end of a "national dialogue" on new territorial divisions to be incorporated into a new constitution this year. The former North Yemen is to be broken up into the regions of Azal, Saba, Janad and Tahama; the former South Yemen into Aden and Hadramout. The capital city of Sanaa is to have "a special status in the Constitution to guarantee its independence and impartiality," said a report in the state news agency. The port city of Aden, the former capital of South Yemen, would also have "independent legislative and executive powers." 

While the new plan is certain to stir fears of imperialist plots for a balkanization of the Middle East, Yemen's southern separatists are rejecting it as insufficient. "What has been announced about the six regions is a coup against what had been agreed at the dialogue," said Mohammed Ali Ahmed, a former South Yemen interior minister who returned from exile in 2012. "That is why I pulled out of the dialogue," he told Reuters.

Nasser al-Nawba, a founder of the Hiraak al-Janoubi (Southern Movement), also pledged: "We will continue our peaceful struggle until we achieve independence." (Al Jazeera, Reuters, BBC News, Feb. 10)

Yemen is currently divided into 21 governorates (see map). Unification of north and south Yemen in 1990 was seen by many in south as an annexation by the more conservative northern government. A separatist movement has recently re-emerged—largely civil and unarmed but with a small armed wing that has carried out sporadic attacks.

Yemen's jihadist insurgency meanwhile scored some dramatic actions. On Feb. 9, a bomb planted in the car of high-ranking intelligence official Col. Mohammed Fadhel Hussein left him dead and wounded three more. (AFP, Feb. 10) On Feb. 13, seven police and three militants were killed as gunmen attacked the main prison in Sanaa, allowing several inmates to escape in the chaos. (BBC News, Feb. 13)