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Secessionists give “Northerners” deadline to leave south Yemen - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Yemeni supporters of the separatist Al-Hirak shout slogans demanding independence from the North during a demonstration on October 14, 2014 in the southern port city of Aden. (AFP Photo/STR)

Yemeni supporters of the separatist Al-Hirak shout slogans demanding independence from the North during a demonstration on October 14, 2014 in the southern port city of Aden. (AFP Photo/STR)

Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Southern secessionists in Yemen are demanding that all “Northerners” leave southern Yemen by November 30, a move which follows massive rallies and sit-ins in the country’s south calling for the restoration of South Yemen and its independence, as Houthi rebels continue to spread throughout the north and central areas.

The secessionist Al-Hirak movement, the most prominent pro-secessionist party, also issued a statement addressing employees of oil and gas, steel, and fishing companies operating in the south, instructing them to halt all operations and export activities, and warning them against carrying out any work without the supervision of “experts” assigned by members of the “Southern Independence Revolution Force.”

Thousands of members of Al-Hirak poured onto the streets of Yemen’s main port city Aden, located on the southern coast, on Tuesday, vowing to stay there in an “open sit-in” until the government agreed to restore the former independent state of South Yemen, which merged with North Yemen in 1990.

This comes as the Houthi movement continued to strengthen its stronghold on the country’s central and northern provinces, following its takeover of the country’s capital Sana’a on September 20.

On Tuesday, the group entered the Al-Hudaydah governorate, seizing its port—Yemen’s second-largest—and main airports.

The province is one of the country’s main economic and commercial centers, lying west of the strategic Bab El-Mandeb strait through which most Yemeni oil headed for global markets, as well as oil shipments from Gulf countries, passes.

Hassan Harad, a senior figure in the Nasserist Unionist People’s Organization party, told Asharq Al-Awsat there was coordination between the group and local government representatives to allow it to enter the Al-Hudaydah governorate without any resistance.

“The entry of the Houthis into Al-Hudaydah and their takeover of the governorate came about through an understanding between representatives from the [Houthi-affiliated] Ansar Allah group and local authorities and the security apparatus. There was also an understanding that the handover be carried out without any resistance [from the security forces],” he said.

Harad added that “there were directives received from up on high to not allow the Houthi militias to protest on the streets, and for them to dress in official military and security uniforms.”

After taking over Al-Hudaydah city, the capital of the province, the Houthis then headed to the city of Bajil where they raided a barracks belonging to the Yemeni army, seized weaponry and ammunition, then “headed to Sana’a dressed in military uniforms,” Harad said.

In addition to Sana’a and Al-Hudaydah—and the Houthi strongholds of Saada and Amran—the Houthis have also spread throughout a number of governorates in the country, including the oil-rich provinces of Al-Jawf and Ma’rib.

In contrast to other reports, local sources told Asharq Al-Awsat the army is resisting the Houthi advance in a number of areas, launching a number of raids on Houthi positions in the Ma’rib, Hadhramaut and Al-Bayda governorates.

However, a local government source from the Al-Bayda governorate told Asharq Al-Awsat the army and security personnel stationed in the province’s capital, Al-Bayda city, had been “neutral” throughout ongoing clashes between the Houthis and local tribesmen, not getting involved in the fighting due to orders they had been given by superiors.

The source said the provincial capital was the scene of clashes between armed members of the Shi’ite group and members of the local Qifa tribe allied to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) on Wednesday.

“The fighting broke out on Wednesday evening after the Houthis blew up the home of a member of the Qifa tribe. Local tribes allied to AQAP retaliated, launching a massive attack on the Houthis in the city of Rada’ . . . The fighting lasted 10 hours,” and 15 people have died as a result so far, said the source, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

The source also said local tribesmen refused to meet with Minister of Defense Ahmed Khalil during his last visit to the governorate on Tuesday. They accused him of “fragmenting the army and handing over the [Al-Bayda] governorate to the Houthis.”

Al-Bayda is home to the Qifa tribe, who are headed by the Al Al-Dhahab family. The family announced weeks ago they would be resisting the Houthis should they attempt to enter the province.

The Al Al-Dhahab are part of a tribal alliance in the governorate which has carried out a number of attacks on army and security installations in recent years, succeeding in 2012 in briefly taking over the city of Rada’ before being forced out by security forces.

Meanwhile, unknown assailants gunned down an army officer, Col. Ali Zayd Al-Thari, in Sana’a on Wednesday. Eyewitnesses told Asharq Al-Awsat that “armed men on a motorcycle used a Kalashnikov rifle to assassinate Col. Thari,” adding that he “died instantly.”

Colonel Thari’s death is the latest in a string of killings of army and police officers across Yemen in recent years, many of which have been blamed on AQAP.

Hamdan Al-Rahbi contributed additional reporting from Sana’a.