(MENAFN - Arab News) Southern separatists in Yemen set fire to a tent camp housing anti-government protesters in the port city of Aden, witnesses said on Sunday, in opposition to an election this month to replace outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Southern separatists joined protesters calling for Saleh to leave last year, but the two sides have since grown apart. The separatists want to revive a southern socialist state that was united with the north in 1990. They fear the Feb. 21 election will not serve their goal.
Anti-Saleh demonstrators broadly back the vote as a step toward ending his 33-year rule. Witnesses said hundreds of separatists marched through Aden, in southern Yemen, late on Saturday, setting fire to tents in the camp of about 100 protesters. About 10 people were injured.
Weakened by months of protests, the Yemeni government has lost control of whole chunks of the country.
Saudi Arabia and the United States are keen for the election to go ahead, fearing protracted instability in Yemen is giving Al-Qaeda's Yemen-based wing room to expand their foothold there, near oil shipping routes through the Red Sea.
But northern rebels have said they too will boycott the vote, in which acting leader Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi is the sole candidate to fill Saleh's position.
Saleh is in the United States receiving medical treatment for injuries inflicted during an assassination attempt on him, but has said he will return home before the vote, shedding doubt on his commitment to leave office in line with a Gulf-brokered plan to end a year of political upheaval.
The Southern separatists accuse northerners of monopolizing power and usurping their resources.
Three separatist groups issued a statement denouncing the tent camp attack as a northern ploy to weaken the southern campaign for independence. "We ask all sides not to be dragged into a colonialist plot aimed at turning the struggle of our people against the (northern) colonizer into a south-south struggle," they said in a statement. Saleh's forces crushed a southern attempt to break away in 1994.
Al-Qaeda's Yemen branch, strongly active in the south of the nation, executed three people on Sunday accusing them of spying on its operations, witnesses said.
Two of them were accused of planting tracking devices in the vehicles of fellow Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants and of providing Yemeni authorities, and the US intelligence services, with information.
They were publicly shot dead in front of dozens of residents after the accusations against them were read out, the witnesses said.
AQAP loyalists control large swathes of both provinces after taking advantage of a decline in central government authority during the anti-government protests that swept the country last year.