South Yemen leaders vowed at a meeting in Dubai to continue talks on participating in a national dialogue this month to end the country’s political crisis, as a separatist faction withdrew from the meeting.
“We have decided to continue the meetings to make a decision on our participation” in the UN-brokered talks which will begin on March 18, said Salem Saleh Mohammed on Sunday. He did not say where the meetings would be held.
Southern leaders met in Dubai late on Saturday in a gathering attended by UN envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar.
But exiled former vice-president of south Yemen, Ali Salem al-Baid, whose radical faction of the Southern Movement demands full independence for the south, handed Benomar a list of demands and pulled out of the meeting.
The demands included the “the withdrawal of northerners” from southern Yemen and “their replacement by UN peacekeepers to protect the people of the south.”
The participation of all factions of the Southern Movement, an alliance of groups that want autonomy or independence for the south of the country, is seen as crucial for the success of the national dialogue which was agreed under a UN-backed deal.
Formerly-independent south Yemen broke away from the north in 1994, sparking a civil war, before it was overrun by northern troops.
Mohammed al-Saqqaf, a representative of Baid, said that dialogue between Sanaa and southerners must be treated as one between two separate states, insisting that his movement “rejects federalism and calls for a referendum” to determine the future of south Yemen.
Last month, southerners launched a campaign of civil disobedience which mainly took effect in their stronghold Aden, where several people were killed in clashes with security forces.
The group of leaders meeting on Saturday said they rejected violence and stressed the need for the Southern Movement to “adhere to peaceful means.”
“We have agreed that the southern issue can only be resolved peacefully… We look forward to carrying out further meetings with the participation of all southern components,” they said in a statement.
Asked if those who met on Saturday would take part in the national dialogue, Benomar, the UN envoy, said “everything will be decided in the coming days and nothing is excluded.”
The UN Security Council has threatened sanctions against parties impeding the national dialogue, including Baid.
The southern question is part of the agenda of the national dialogue, which was originally scheduled for mid-November.
It aims to draft a new constitution and prepare for elections in February 2014 after a two-year transition following the departure of Yemen’s former strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down in the wake of a mass uprising.