Colonel Nasser El-Tawil, one of the founders of Yemen’s Southern Separatist Movement (known as Al-Hirak in Arabic) and vice-chairman of the committee of the military and security in the national dialogue process, spoke to Ahram Online recently.
Al-Hirak is a broad coalition of pro-secessionist groups which was formed in 2007.
El-Tawil believes that Yemen's political setup in recent decades has been unfair to the south. He also argues that Saleh’s regime policies towards the south, including the expulsion of thousands of southern civilians and military officials from their positions, contributed to calls for secession from the north.
However, he still believes that federalism is a guarantee of unity.
Ahram Online: Were there no guarantees or foundations that could preserve the rights of the people?
Nasser El-Tawil: No, there never were, and during the unjust 1994 war, not only the north was involved but also Baghdad, Riyadh and the United States, while all that we had were tanks and weapons that went to Sanaa with Ali Salem El-Bayedh. Despite our limited potential, we were able to resist for 72 days.
Several movements were formed such as Al-Nagah and others. They were later eliminated and their leaders were targeted. The people of the south were resilient and determined to fight, despite the media blackout.
AO: Can we call the army in Aden before the unification an institutionalised and hierarchal army?
NT: Of course it was. This is not my verdict as a leader, but this seems to be the verdict of all the parties involved, and the proof is that it has succeeded in combating imperialist powers.
The reason behind this is that the army was protecting our nation and the revolution without interfering in politics.
AO: Is there intent in targeting the army rather than the issue of unity?
NT: Yes, of course. There are a lot of international meetings that were held in Arab capitals which targeted the army of the south and aimed at eliminating the southern regime and the identity of Yemeni society.
AO: But in 2011 and after the fall of Saleh, wasn’t the time right to achieve these goals?
NT: The time was right but the leadership was standing in the way of achieving the demands, without specifying any reasons.
AO: By leadership do you mean the president?
NT: Yes, I do mean the president.
AO: Even though he is from the south?
NT: Even if he comes from the south, he still was a leader in the 1994 war against the south. However, one must mention that once he reached this position, President Abd-Rabbuh Mansur Hadi eased a lot of issues for the popular uprising in the south and decreased police repression against them. But the roots of the problem remain in place.
AO: Compared to the north, how many southern Yemenis participated in the national dialogue committee?
NT: There were 45 members in the committee. We were 12 members, but the northern Yemenis were very compassionate with us and our cause.
AO: and what was your plan?
NT: We projected a number of decisions including rehiring ex-military members and ensuring that they are given all their rights, and then a retirement law was applied on both the north and the south.
We have also submitted a proposal that divides the army proportionally, 50 percent from the south and 50 percent from the north, and this will be the case for the ministry of defence and the ministry of interior.
We then took a decision to build the new military on a national and professional basis, and to include university students as well.
AO: Do the southern Yemenis want to take revenge after the marginalisation that they were exposed to?
NT: The foundations of the new state must be based on a path that suits both the north and the south, after achieving this we start looking for a solution to these predicaments.
AO: However it is apparent that there are some problems in resolving the form of the state and there is also there no consensus among the different parties involved in Al-Harak.
NT: The federal state is a guarantee of unity; this is what we agreed upon in the dialogue conference before withdrawing from the conference. The People’s Congress and the reformers do not want this, though.
The south cannot live under Sanaa’s fist. We can either have the regional federal authorities in the south linked to the central ministries such as defence or foreign affairs, so there could be an army in the north and another in the south, or in the framework for an independent state… anything but living under the status-quo.
AO: Can the south afford to build an army of its own?
NT: We have an institution ready that I can call up in 24 hours, and the salaries are available too.
We have all the resources needed in the south; we can stop sending the revenues to Sanaa and have a budget. We don’t want to do it this way; we don’t want to deny our brothers and sisters in Sanaa of the revenues. They just have to accept unity.
If things go this way, the south will head towards secession without question.
The situation is complicated. But I blame the president. I invited him to come and be president in the south, and we would discuss the common points with the north. We used to be divided into two parts, but we were united; now we are united but we are really divided.