SANAA: Yemen's government has apologised to southern separatists and northern rebels for wars against them, seeking to encourage a national dialogue aimed at drafting a new constitution and holding elections.
The government "offers its regrets to the sons of the southern provinces," who are demanding autonomy or even independence, and to those of the north, where minority Shiite Muslims have been battling the central government since 2004, according to a statement published late Wednesday.
It said its aim was to create the "conditions favourable to the success of the conference of national dialogue charged with bringing about national reconciliation," added the statement, carried by official news agency Saba.
In particular, the aim is to "guarantee equal rights for citizens and an equitable distribution of power and wealth."
Yemen is the only Arab state in which an uprising resulted in a negotiated solution, with long-time president Ali Abdullah Saleh agreeing to step down. He was replaced by an interim president whose task is to hold new elections next year under a still uncompleted constitution.
But the national dialogue has stalled, particularly because of the thorny issue of southern separatism, and it is not yet certain whether elections set for February will take place on time.
The government blamed Saleh as being "principally responsible" for the 1994 war against southerners, who had declared independence and were quickly defeated.
Saleh was also blamed for the "wars of Saada," a reference to the northern province and its Zaidi rebels.
It said they were a "historic error that must not be repeated."
Last week, southern representatives withdrew from the dialogue, demanding apologies from the government and calling for the talks to be held abroad, where many of their leaders live in exile.
Yassin Mekkawi, among representatives who withdrew, said the government apology was "a step forward," but not sufficient.