Support the Dominion
Support the Dominion
VANCOUVER—What started off as the annual tremors of remembrance over the bloody 1994 Yemeni civil war have this time had far-reaching consequences.
Clashes in southern Yemen between protesters and police are common in the summer months that commemorate the 1994 civil war, which lasted from May to July of that year. The main grievance of protesting southern Yemenis is the north's control of quickly-depleting oil reserves in the south.
After three protesters and a policeman were wounded during an anti-government rally in early July, the government deemed all protests illegal. Many southerners have not obeyed the edict, believing the central government in Sana'a to be prejudiced against them.
Recent fighting has displaced as many as 3,500 people, bringing the total since 2004 to around 100,000, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.
Brian Whitaker, an editor with Britain's The Guardian newspaper, notes in his book The Birth of Modern Yemen the dichotomy between tribal pro-US North Yemen and detribalized pro-Soviet South Yemen. This division, according to Whitaker, was bound to lead to the civil war in 1994, where the south sent rockets up to Sana'a in response to the bombing of the southern town of Aden by the north.
The country has remained unsteadily unified since the north emerged victorious in July of that year, with many of the southern Shi'ite and Yemen Socialist Party leaders going into exile.
In July, Yemen's deputy interior minister praised the country's new program seeking to seize all unregistered weapons—a tactic that is being seen by tribes as one set up to forcibly disarm them. Simultaneously, Yemen's courts decided to throw one journalist in prison and order another to stop writing because of their supposedly separatist slants.
"The sentence constitutes another violation of free expression by Yemen," Reporters Without Borders told the Yemen Times.
In addition to controlling firearms and the press, the government sent its forces into southern territories in the name of national security and anti-terrorism: the military is currently surrounding the Wa'ela tribe, accused of holding the six surviving missionaries of nine who were taken hostage on July 12, 2009, in a suburb of Sa'ada.
Sheikh Saleh Habra, spokesperson for the tribe, told the Yemen Times rescuing the hostages is not on the government's agenda so much as a plan "to impose a complete siege on our supporters and expand their military sites."
Such measures from the government have not in any way curbed the violence between the Sunni north and Shi'ite south. Clashes between Houthis and Sunni militants over a northern mosque led to the death of ten people in July.
The Yemeni Defense Ministry newswire is additionally accusing separatists of killing three and wounding another in the Lahaj region of the south.
The violence has not gone unnoticed in the international community, particularly after an American intelligence official warned of possible attacks against the US embassy in Sana'a. Members of Salafia Jihadia, a group linked to Al Qaeda, are being accused of plotting the supposed operation.
To show the world Yemen is serious about fighting terrorism, courts in that country sentenced six accused Al Qaeda operatives to death in July for plotting against foreign and governmental targets.
These actions may be too little too late since western governments have already warned their citizens not to travel to Yemen.
On August 21, 2009, the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs issued a travel report citing the presence of terrorism, tribal violence and government-secessionist fighting to warn Canadians against all travel to the region. The Canadian government lists one of the Yemeni rebel entities, the anti-government pro-theocracy Islamic Army of Aden, as a terrorist organization.
Canada has been particularly wary of Yemen ever since a small bomb exploded near the Yemeni offices of Canadian oil company Nexen on April 10, 2008.
According to Canada's report on bilateral relations with Yemen, the Canadian International Development Agency has spent $450,000 in Yemen to help remove landmines. Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs is tied to Yemen via its Global Peace and Security Fund and Counter-Terrorism Capacity Building assistance.
Indirectly, Canada has also worked through the United Nations Development Program to help set up the Yemeni Ministry of Human Rights.
Despite both domestic and international efforts, attacks within the country are multiplying.
At the beginning of July an unknown group exploded an oil pipeline controlled by a South Korean company in southeastern Yemen. Commercial attacks such as this are a bigger worry for the government than protests since the country is bleeding billions of dollars due to the world financial crunch, whether or not it refuses to admit it.
The Yemeni government's response to the crisis, which stems largely from an economy 90 per cent dependent on dwindling oil reserves, was to further poke at the south: it unveiled plans in July via the Yemen News Agency to open a new refinery in the southern city of Aden.
Southerners are not pleased.
Isaac Oommen is a writer, originally from Dubai and now residing in Vancouver. He traveled extensively through the Middle East and south-central Asia before settling in Vancouver to write.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.