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Former secessionist says he will lead south

Al Beidh says he wants to correct the mistake he made by agreeing on unity with President Saleh.

Gulf News

Sana'a: There was a turning point in the unrest in southern Yemen this week when the exiled former secessionist leader Ali Salem Al Beidh broke his 15-year political silence and declared himself leader of the restive groups in the south who call for separation from the north.

The declaration came from Germany on Thursday, the eve of the 19th anniversary of the unification between south and north on May 22, 1990.

Al Beidh has been living in the neighbouring country of Oman since 1994, when his first secession attempt failed after about 70 days of devastating all-out war.

He says he wants to correct the mistake he made by agreeing on unity with President Ali Abdullah Saleh, return the south to the southerners and get them out of the "trap" they were lured into.

"We were looking forward to a unified homeland that is large enough for all, but the powers in Sana'a were conspiring against us," said Al Beidh in a press conference held in Munich.

"I will lead a peaceful struggle until we get back the state of the south and then I will hand power to the young people," said Al Beidh.

To reassure the disgruntled groups behind the protests in the south, who come from different political, social and ideological backgrounds he said, "I'm not in a party and will not join any party, but after liberation I may like to be an advisor." The groups he represents include jihadists and tribal Shaikhs who have long been hostile to Al Beidh's socialist party.

He appealed to the Arab nations to put pressure on Saleh's regime to withdraw the forces from the "occupied south".

Officials played down the importance of the statements made by Al Beidh, saying he previously failed to separate Yemen when he had an army at his disposal.

"The statements made by Ali Salem Al Beidh do not signify anything more than that there is a conspiracy against unity. Al Beidh attempts only to commemorate his bad declaration of secession on May 21, 1994, when he still had an army, tanks, missiles and fighter jets, but he could not do anything, and he was defeated and unity was protected," said Abdullah Ahmad Ganem, a senior official in the ruling party.