UN chief Ban Ki-moon pledged his support on a visit to Yemen on Monday to the year-old political transition that ended 11 months of deadly protests against veteran strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Ban hailed the progress made by President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi’s government in restoring peace after last year’s violence that left hundreds dead and the security forces split down the middle between Saleh loyalists and opponents.
But he pointed to the major challenges that still need to be addressed, singling out the grievances of the formerly independent south and the threat posed by Al-Qaeda, whose Yemen branch is regarded by Washington as the jihadist network’s most dangerous.
“Your country… was on the brink of civil war, even just one year ago but you have overcome this with political courage and determination,” Ban said on his visit to mark the anniversary later this week of Saleh’s signing of the transition agreement under which he stepped down.
“But it may be too early only to rejoice; there is still a long way to go,” Ban said.
“Fighting against al-Qaeda, that will be a very important and serious issue.”
Before a counter-offensive ordered by Hadi earlier this year, the jihadists held large swathes of southern Yemen. Despite their loss of a string of towns east of Aden in June, they continue to launch hit-and-run attacks on government and civilian targets across the country.
Ban also pointed to the grievances that have fanned separatist sentiment in the formerly independent south, citing demands for “compensation for land and property, jobs lost after unification” in 1990 that was followed by a 1994 civil war.
Ban said he had held talks with the committee preparing for a promised national dialogue which is intended to result in a new constitution and electoral law.
“They are very much committed to address all the challenges, including the grievances of (the South) and meeting the legitimate aspirations of many people,” the UN chief said.
Early last month, the Southern Movement announced it would boycott the national dialogue in protest at its aspirations not being heard.
The Yemeni president vowed that parliamentary elections would go ahead in February 2014 as planned under the transition agreement.
Hadi told reporters that a preparatory committee for the national dialogue had completed 95 percent of its work.
“The remaining five percent will be completed in the coming few weeks,” he said.
Hadi has repeatedly urged all factions to join the critical talks, including Zaidi Shiite rebels who have mounted repeated uprisings in the far north since 1994, as well as the Southern Movement.
But Hadi, who is himself a southerner, gave the separatists little encouragement for a change of heart on their threatened boycott.
“Everything will take place within the framework of Yemen’s security and its unity,” he said.