Yemen’s government apologized Wednesday to southern secessionists over a war launched against them by the previous president, in hopes of bringing them back to talks about the future of this country on the Arabian peninsula.
The government’s statement, read on state television, said that it was apologizing on behalf of the previous Yemeni leadership to those affected by the 1994 civil war in the south and to Shiite Hawthi rebels in the northern province of Saada. It said the wars and subsequent conflicts led to extensive damages and “historical and moral mistakes.”
Southerners joined a unified Yemen in 1990, but many protesters are again demanding independence. A 1994 attempt by the south to regain independence was crushed in a three-month civil war.
The southern movement had demanded an apology for the short-lived war that killed thousands under President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was pushed out of power last year after mass uprisings against him.
The apology comes just days after secessionists had pulled out of national reconciliation talks aimed at mapping out the future of the country.
Ali Hassan Zaki, the head of the southern movement, told The Associated Press that the apology was not what he and others had expected it to be.
“What was agreed on in the national reconciliation talks is that a formal apology to the south is made by the political parties that took part in the ‘94 war,” he said.
The government’s statement said its apology was made on behalf of those parties.
Tensions are rising and threaten to further destabilize Yemen’s south, a region that al-Qaida has used to set up training camps and launch operations against security forces.
Threats to foreign interests in Yemen recently prompted embassies to pull their staff out of Yemen.
Washington reopened its Sana’a embassy on Wednesday after it was closed for about three weeks. Germany and Britain earlier opened their embassies.
Eighteen other U.S. embassies and consulates were closed earlier this month because of threats from al-Qaida.
The situation in the country is reaching a “tipping point,” warned the U.N. special envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, last month.
He said that decades of resentment over unaddressed grievances have led to more protests by southerners.
Benomar warned that the government must settle the status of the south in order to develop the foundations of a new constitution. He urged southern leaders who are not participating to join the talks.
Members of the movement say the apology needed to be made by members of Saleh’s regime who carried out the attacks.
They also said those officials who remain in power must be removed from office and that land confiscated by the government after the war be returned to residents of the south.
In a letter to the government explaining why they pulled out of reconciliation talks this week, a leader in the southern movement, Mohammed Ali Ahmed, suggested the dialogue be moved to a “neutral” neighboring country. He also asked for a set timetable for the talks.
Ahmed told the AP that 85 members from the southern movement had withdrawn from the dialogue.
As calls for autonomy continue to be raised, the country’s security situation in the south remains precarious.
Three suspected al-Qaeda militants killed a top intelligence official on Wednesday and his son in the southern city of Aden, security officials said.
The officials said Col. Ali el-Hadi was shot to death in his car. His son was also shot in the car and died of his wounds at a hospital, the official said.
The officials, who spoke anonymously in line with regulations, said el-Hadi was in charge of intelligence gathering in Aden.
It is the latest killing of a Yemeni security official in the country. The Yemeni military, backed by U.S. support and drone strikes, has tried to crush the operations of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula there.