AMMAN, JORDAN, FEB. 20 -- Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Salih and his estranged Vice President Ali Salem Beidh signed a reconciliation pact here today along with other Yemeni leaders and tribal chiefs despite a lingering climate of distrust and the threat of civil war.
Jordan's King Hussein brought the disputing Yemenis together today after envoys from Jordan and Oman had shuttled between the warring factions in recent months trying to defuse the tension.
Hussein, who presided at the signing ceremony, is hoping to boost his standing as an Arab power broker and peacemaker. He offered to take Salih and Beidh, who had not spoken since August, home in his own jet and he urged them to embrace after they avoided one another throughout the proceedings.
Salih pledged to Hussein at the conclusion of the signing that he would "turn the page of the past," and he promised to make the accord work.
Beidh's comments were more skeptical. He noted the difficulty encountered in implementing past agreements and resolutions. "We are here despite our wounds, but the wound of all of Yemen is more precious," he said, mentioning fellow southerners killed since 1990.
The six-month-old dispute between Yemen's president and vice president had crippled the fledgling democracy and split its army along tribal lines between north and south Yemen -- previously separate countries that merged in May 1990. A standoff between army units of the south and north following conflicting orders from the president and the defense minister brought the fragile merger to the brink of collapse early this year.
The struggle for power, and deep-seated suspicions among Beidh's supporters that prominent southerners were the target of assassinations and discrimination, led to Beidh's self-imposed exile in Aden, the former capital of South Yemen.
Key demands by Beidh's Yemeni Socialist Party addressed in the new national accord are for limitation of presidential powers, withdrawal of army units from major cities, apprehension of criminals and killers hiding with influential northern tribes, and administrative decentralization that would allow for a more equitable distribution of national resources, oil income and economic development. Although most of Yemen's oil is in the south, Socialist Party officials charge that distribution of income is not even and benefits the president's own expenditures and his tribal loyalists.
Salih's brothers and half-brothers are all army commanders, and Salih has 30,000 troops in his presidential guard. Beidh has asked that this elite unit be merged with the army.