The UN envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar has called on participants of the country’s National Dialogue Conference (NDC) to unite against demands for a separate independent state of South Yemen.
The UN-backed NDC, which began on Monday, involves 565 representatives from the country’s political parties coming together to work on drafting a new constitution, preparing proposals on government decentralisation, and discussing the formation of a potential coalition government.
However, the event has been marred by rising political unrest witnessed in Yemen over the past few weeks.
Many protesters in the south of the country, often referred to as southern separatists, have repeatedly warned political parties against participating in the talks.
Yemen has struggled to restore normality since President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was elected in February 2012 following nearly a year of Arab Spring-style protests that forced his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down after 33 years in power.
Some separatist leaders of a political grouping called Herak have complained of widespread discrimination by the country’s government, including the dismissal of tens of thousands of administrators.
As a result, the southern separatists are calling for the re-establishment of the independent state of South Yemen, which merged with North Yemen in 1990 after the collapse of its main ally, the Soviet Union.
Speaking at a NDC press conference held in Sanaa on Wednesday, Benomar said: “The dialogue is the only way to resolve the southern case. We do not have any other visions or opinions about how to resolve the issue, as the decision is in the hands of the Yemeni parties.”
The UN official also expressed concerns about violent clashes earlier in the week between security forces and anti-government protesters in the southern cities of Aden and Hadramout, which resulted in the death of one Yemeni activist. Tens of thousands of protesters were seen descending on the streets on Monday to rally against the opening of the NDC talks, which are set go on for the next six months.
Benomar urged the government to launch an immediate investigation into the demonstrations, prosecuting anyone involved in the violence. He also advised the government to hold negotiations with the southern separatists and urged the movements’ leaders to renounce any acts of violence.
He added that the conference is “key to implementing a transitional government that can achieve serious change.”
Benomar also pointed out that he will be submitting a report to the UN office in New York, detailing the developments made during the upcoming sessions of the NDC.