Yemen’s government signs deal with separatists to stop infighting

Southern Yemeni separatist fighters stand guard outside the headquarters of the Southern Transitional Council in Aden, Yemen Nov. 5, 2019. Fawaz Salman/Reuters

CAIRO — Yemen’s internationally recognized government signed a power-sharing deal on Tuesday with southern separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates. The deal aims to end months of infighting in the country’s south.

The two groups are in an alliance against Yemen’s Houthi rebels. But their deadly clashes have exposed a potential rift in the anti-Houthi bloc and threatened to further destabilize the Arab world’s poorest country.

Saudi Arabia’s state TV broadcast the signing ceremony in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. That’s where Yemen’s president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has been in exile since 2014, when the Houthis took control of the capital Sanaa and much of northern Yemen.

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In August, the UAE-backed southern separatists took control of Aden, the temporary capital, from forces loyal to Hadi, which are backed by Saudi Arabia.

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Tuesday’s power-sharing deal allows for President Hadi to return to Aden and envisages a new Cabinet.

A copy of the deal obtained by The Associated Press also shows the separatists agreed to disband their militias, which would be integrated into Hadi’s forces within three months.

In return, the southern separatists are to take part in United Nations-brokered talks between Hadi’s government and the Houthi rebels.

Those talks aim to end the wider conflict in Yemen, which has killed tens of thousands of people and caused near-famine conditions in some areas.

The agreement further dictates that both sides pull their forces out of Aden, and says all sides would be under the Saudi-led coalition’s control. It leaves only a unit of the presidential guard in Aden to protect Hadi, while coalition forces will protect the southern separatists’ leaders.

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Peter Salisbury, Yemen expert at the Crisis International Group, a Brussels-based think-tank , said the agreement solves two short-term problems, if it can be successfully implemented. It prevents a war-within-a-war between the southern separatists and Hadi’s government. It also provides more credibility to future government negotiations with the Houthis.

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However, Salisbury cautioned that the agreement “is loosely worded, and open to interpretation … and sets an ambitious timeline for implementation.”

Attending the ceremony were Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Also present was Aidarous al-Zubaidi, the head of the secessionist Southern Transitional Council.

Saudi Arabia has in the past weeks increased its military presence in southern Yemen, airlifting in additional troops, armoured vehicles, tanks and other military equipment.

The UAE has since July been pulling troops out of Yemen, leaving the coalition with a weakened ground presence and fewer tactical options.

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