Yemen's president said Tuesday the question of turning the country into a federal state, which has so far delayed a conclusion to reconciliation talks, will be resolved within days.
Addressing participants at a national dialogue session in Sanaa, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi said: "We are a few days away from reaching a just solution to the southern issue... within a united and federal Yemen."
The once-independent southerners are demanding two entities -- one in the north and one in the south -- while northerners want a federal state made up of several regions.
Hadi referred to a "broad national agreement reached on several aspects of a settlement to the southern issue," adding that "it will not be difficult to overcome a few remaining issues."
The dialogue was scheduled to end on September 18 but was delayed after participants, who had already agreed to the concept of a federal structure, failed to agree on the numbers of regions that will constitute the future state.
The dialogue is aimed at drawing up a new constitution for Yemen and preparing for elections in February.
The dialogue offers "a historic opportunity for those who sincerely believe the southern cause is a just one," Hadi said.
The southern question has been a major stumbling-block for the talks launched in March, with hardline factions of the Southern Movement boycotting the discussions and demanding secession.
After the former North and South Yemen united in 1990, the south broke away in 1994, triggering a brief civil war that ended with the region being overrun by northern troops.
Hadi warned that secession of the south would "be a catastrophe that future generations will never forgive us for."
U.N. envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar also addressed the session, assuring Yemenis of the international community's support for their "peaceful" political transition.
Benomar, a key mediator throughout the U.N.-backed talks, said: "I am happy to see (participants) moving towards an agreement on the outlines of a new federal structure."
"But I remind Yemenis that the decision is theirs and they must bear the consequences of their choice."
Separatist groups have called for a rally in Aden, capital of the formerly independent south, in support of complete secession.
The meetings, which will discuss the final reports of the work groups formed during the conference are expected to continue until October 13. They will then take a break during the Muslim Eid al-Adha feast before resuming on October 21.
The talks are part of a transitional process stipulated by a U.N.-backed initiative, brokered by neighboring Gulf countries, which ended a year of protests and eased former president Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office in February 2012, after 33 years in power.
Yemen president says federal structure to be resolved in days