ADEN, Yemen, March 26 (Reuters) - A leader of a failed secessionist rebellion in southern Yemen returned home on Monday after 18 years in exile and at a time when separatists are still demanding an independent state in the south.
"Mohammed Ali Ahmed will carry out contacts with opposition figures in the south with the aim of achieving a united southern stand," an aide told Reuters.
Ahmed, an interior minister in a short-lived breakaway government in south Yemen in 1994, flew to the port of Aden from London after a stopover in Dubai, Yemeni news websites said.
Yemeni factions, including separatists who want to reinstate a southern state which united with the north in 1990, have been invited to a national dialogue ahead of a parliamentary election in 2014.
The dialogue was agreed as part of a Gulf-brokered deal that allowed former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to leave office after a year of protests against his rule, and the election of a new president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The protests and factional fighting have allowed al Qaeda's regional wing to seize swathes of south Yemen and Shi'ite Muslim Houthi rebels to carve out their own domain in the north.
The United States and Saudi Arabia are keen for the Gulf plan to work, fearing that a power vacuum in Yemen is giving militants space to thrive alongside a key crude shipping strait in the Red Sea.
Many southerners complain northerners have discriminated against them and usurped their resources. Most of Yemen's fast-declining oil reserves are in the south. The central government has denied there was any discrimination against the south.