South Yemenis demand independence vote at UN talks

Rimbo (Sweden) (AFP) –


A small group of southern Yemenis staged a protest outside the venue of UN peace talks in Sweden on Wednesday demanding a referendum to restore independence.

Waving the flag of former south Yemen -- featuring a bright blue triangle with a red star -- some 30 southerners called for freedom under the watchful eye of Swedish police.

Southern Yemen was an independent country until the 1990 unification under president Ali Abdullah Saleh, a northerner who ruled for more than three decades and was killed by his rebel allies in 2017.

The south has long complained of neglect and marginalisation -- grievances which did not disappear under current President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who is himself a southerner and leads the country during a time of devastating war.

Multiple protesters told AFP they were seeking a referendum on southern independence and shouted "Free, free South Arabia" with a loudspeaker.

"We are here to demand our right, as original inhabitants, just like in Scotland, for a referendum," Abedelfattah Haddad, who hails from the southern city of Daleh, told AFP.

"If the UN talks of democracy and pluralism, why not hold a referendum?"

Nearly four years into a war that has pushed 14 million Yemenis to the brink of starvation, the Saudi-backed government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and Huthi rebels, linked to Riyadh's arch-rival Iran, have been in UN-brokered talks since Thursday in the rural town of Rimbo in Sweden.

Southerners had complained of under-representation in the run-up to the Sweden talks. The government and rebel delegations include one southerner each, allied with the respective party.

"We are the children of the south," Hend Omairan, a southern Yemeni activist, told AFP.

"We are here today to send a message to the government and the UN special envoy: why is the south not represented in this conversation, in these consultations?"