SANAA, Yemen (AP) – The Saudi-led coalition, embroiled in a long-standing conflict in Yemen, announced on Monday that the Emirates-backed southern separatists and the nation’s internationally recognized government are on strike after months of conflict fires have been agreed.
The agreement aims to bridge the gap between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, nominal allies, in a war against Yemen-backed Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Maliki said delegates from the Southern Transitional Council of the separatists and the Yemeni government are gathering in the Saudi capital of Riyadh to end the implementation of a November 2019 deal that ended previous fighting.
Violence has flared up between the separatist group and government forces since the Southern Transitional Council declared self-government over the major port city of Aden and other southern provinces in April. The renewed clashes opened a new front in the larger civil war, killing more than 112,000 people and fueling what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The increasing split in the south has also hindered authorities’ response to the coronavirus pandemic and complicated attempts to launch a wider peace process.
Al-Maliki denounced recent clashes on the remote island of Socotra in the Gulf of Aden, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in the southern province of Abyan.
The STC appointed a new Socotra governor on Monday after the separatists effectively took control of the area amid fighting that threatened to cause irreparable damage to the island’s rare plant and animal species. The Yemeni government dismissed the separatists’ claims as a “coup” and called for the release of local journalist Abdullah Badhan on Monday, who according to an information agency was arrested in a wave of civilians opposing the presence of the Emirates in the archipelago .
The sudden victory of the separatists in Socotra seems to have given the group leverage in ceasefire negotiations.
The coalition urged all parties to “stop the bloodshed by adhering to the Riyadh Agreement,” which stipulated the transfer of heavy weapons, the withdrawal of rival forces and the formation of a new government. Al-Maliki said the coalition would deploy troops to monitor a ceasefire in the flash point of the Abyan government, which lies between the government and the separatist forces.
Nizar Haitham, a spokesman for the STC, welcomed the coalition’s calls for a ceasefire and de-escalation in Yemen’s southern governments. In a statement, he stressed the urgent need to carry out the Riyadh deal and thanked Saudi Arabia for its diplomatic role.
Three officials in the council’s leadership said that while the separatists insisted on their declaration of self-government, they were open to Saudi-led negotiations. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they had no authority to inform the media.
Rajeh Badi, a Yemeni government spokesman, said she welcomed the move and would work on de-escalation in the southern provinces. The UAE State Secretary of State, Anwar Gargash, tweeted his appreciation for Saudi Arabia’s “brutal efforts to achieve stability in Yemen.”
The decline of Yemen in turmoil began in 2014 when Shiite Houthi rebels overran the capital Sanaa and much of the north of the country, forcing the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi into exile.
A US-backed Saudi-led coalition intervened the following year to try to restore Hadi’s rule. The costly war has fallen into a stalemate, forcing large regional players to find a way out. This spring, Saudi Arabia declared a one-sided ceasefire, which quickly collapsed.
As the rebels gain ground in the north, near the Saudi border, the kingdom wants to “invest in seeing a unified Yemeni front against the Houthis,” said Fatima Abo Alasrar, a non-resident scholar of the Washington-based Middle East Institute . The government has quickly lost its credibility, she said, leaving Saudi Arabia “in an embarrassing position” caught between Hadi and the separatists, even as the Houthis escalated their attacks.
Last Monday, the Saudi-led coalition said it intercepted “some” bomb-carrying drones launched by the Houthis and storming the kingdom. A brief statement on the state-run Saudi Press Agency suggested that other drones may have passed Saudi air defense without elaborating further. The rebels hit the kingdom with drones and cruise missiles during the years of war.
Last summer, the UAE withdrew its troops and said they would end their role in the conflict. But experts say it continues to exercise influence through its proxies to ensure control of key areas along Yemen’s 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) coastline. The country is located on a strategic waterway that leads to the Persian Gulf, through which much of the world’s oil flows.
The Secessionist Council, an umbrella group of heavily armed and well-funded militias supported by the UAE since 2015, hopes to restore an independent South Yemen that existed from 1967 until its unification in 1990.
Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Isabel DeBre in Cairo contributed to this report.
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