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?”