Yemen’s southern separatists hit the headlines last week after swiftly capturing government institutions in the temporary coastal Aden city, but the movement has now declared plans to seize control of the entire southern region.
Yemen’s UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (NTC) announced it would continue to control the city of Aden on Thursday, declaring its pending intentions to seize control of other provinces in the south of the country.
In a statement, the separatists declared the restoration of the “independent federal state of the south,” is irreversible, according to local Yemen Monitor which verified the document.
The separatist movement announced it would “liberate the remains of the valley of Hadramout, Beihan and Mekheras, and any other part of the southern territories still suffering from terrorism and occupation,” referring to areas controlled by the internationally-recognised government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi. The separatists urged local authorities in southern governates to work under its umbrella organisation
The document also noted it would “ensure the freedom of work and movement of northern brothers in Aden and the southern governorates” though it said northerners would be obliged to “carry documents and complete the necessary security measures in order to protect them and maintain public security.”
The STC vowed to continue supporting what it called the “northern national resistance” against the Houthi rebel movement, but stipulated that no troops or northern camps will remain in the southern provinces.
The statement provides a long to do list for the southern provinces, including fighting corruption, countering terrorism and advocating reconciliation and tolerance.
The document surfaced just a week after the separatists seized control of Aden, the temporary capital of the Hadi government.
Forces loyal to the UAE-supported STC, which seeks an independent South Yemen, seized the presidential palace in Aden on Saturday after clashes with forces loyal to Hadi left 40 people dead.
The fighting sparked tensions within the Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which backs the government against northern-based Houthi rebels.
The clashes saw forces that back the STC take five barracks, the presidential palace and the prime minister’s office.
The Saudi-led coalition condemned the takeover and urged the STC-aligned Security Belt militia to pull out from positions it captured, calling for peace talks to resolve the standoff.
Yemen’s government on Wednesday ruled out talks with the separatists until they withdraw from positions they seized in Aden.
The Yemeni embassy in Washington, quoting the foreign ministry, on Wednesday welcomed the Saudi initiative to address the “coup” in Aden.
Yemen’s government accused the UAE of participating in the implementation of the “coup” and demanded that it stop its support for militias militarily and politically.
Interior Minister Ahmed al-Missiri said 400 UAE armoured vehicles had taken part in the attack on legitimate government positions in Aden, prompting the separatists to swiftly seize control of the temporary capital.
Meanwhile on Thursday a joint Saudi-Emirati military delegation arrived in Aden to discuss the pullout of the separatists from positions they captured in Yemen’s interim capital, government and separatists sources told AFP.
The delegation arrived in the city “to discuss the issue of the withdrawal of southern Security Belt forces from government camps and positions they seized last week,” a source in the government of Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi told AFP.
That came after Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed visited Saudi Arabia on Monday, after the alliance between the two countries took a hit with the fall of southern port city Aden to UAE-backed separatist forces.
Monday’s meeting between between bin Zayed and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdelaziz included a discussion of the situation in Yemen, SPA state news agency reported.
Speaking after meeting King Salman near Mecca on Monday, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan said dialogue was “the only way to resolve differences between Yemenis”.
In a statement carried by the Emirates’ official WAM news agency, the crown prince during his brief visit backed a Saudi call for an urgent meeting between the warring parties, saying it “embodies the common concern for Yemen’s stability”.
Prince Mohammed also urged Yemeni factions to “seize this opportunity, and carry out talks to reach a consensus that is in the best interest of Yemen and its people.”
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who also attended the meeting, held separate talks with his Emirati counterpart, according to a Saudi foreign ministry tweet.
They “reviewed the close relations between the two brotherly countries”, the situation in Yemen and “the various efforts towards achieving security and stability”, it said.
Yemen’s southern separatists said they were prepared to resolve a standoff in the temporary capital on Thursday by attending a summit in Saudi Arabia.
“We thank Saudi Arabia for its earnest efforts to contain the crisis and invite the parties for talks in Jeddah,” the Southern Transitional Council (STC) said in a statement. “The meeting will be held as soon as necessary arrangements are completed.”
The comments came just a day after the separatists mobilised thousands of supporters from across the country’s southern region for a million man parade celebrating the separatists’ takeover of Aden.
The parade took place in Aden’s Khormaksar district, just feet away from the capital’s heavily-guarded safe zone where international rights organisations and UN agencies are located.
“The million-man parade was no doubt huge, but it was made up of Bedouins and people from other cities across the south, including Dhale’ – not Adenis,” a witness told The New Arab.
“Adenis have been largely isolated from this whole campaign despite it unravelling on home ground. The influx of Southern Transitional Council [STC] supporters from other areas of the region in no way reflects the general opinion on the street.
“There are some that support and others that don’t – most people just want peace and we don’t care who provides that for us,” the unnamed witness said.
Most people just want peace and we don’t care who provides that for us
Tensions have often run high in Aden between the UAE-backed Security Belt and Saudi-backed forces supporting the Aden-based government of Hadi.
The latest developments came after UAE-backed southern separatists leader Hani bin Breik called on supporters to overthrow the Saudi-backed internationally-recognised Hadi government in Aden.
Bin Breik called on supporters to march toward the Maasheeq Palace in the southern coastal city, which has for years played as the temporary capital of the war-torn country.
“We announce a general mobilisation of all our southern forces to march toward the Maasheeq Palace,” said Hani Ben Brek, deputy chairman of the Southern Transitional Council.
Bin Breik, one of the UAE’s key allies in Yemen and reportedly a close aide of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, accused forces stationed at the presidential headquarters of attacking demonstrators loyal to the separatist movement during a funeral for victims of a recent attack.
The UAE is part of a Saudi-led military coalition backing the UN-recognised government against Houthi rebels in the country’s conflict, however its forces in the south of the country have frequently clashed with Saudi-backed government forces.
Yemen has been at war for more than four years.
The Houthis control the capital Sanaa and most cities in northern, central and western regions, while the government maintains a makeshift capital in Aden.
In the south, where UAE-backed secessionists claim independence, there is strong resentment of citizens from the north.
Southern Yemen was an independent state until 1990 and the north is perceived to have imposed unification by force.