Iran-Qatar-backed talks in Muscat perceived as ‘fomenting discord’ in Yemen’s southern provinces

“Regardless of the results of the Jeddah dialogue, the situation in the southern provinces will not be the same as before the talks," said Mansour Saleh, deputy head of the media department of the Southern Transitional Council.
Saturday 12/10/2019
Mansour Saleh, deputy head of the media department of the Southern Transitional Council. (Al Arab)
A cause to defend. Mansour Saleh, deputy head of the media department of the Southern Transitional Council. (Al Arab)

The internationally recognised government of Yemen and the Southern Transitional Council have yet to reach clear points of agreement in Saudi-sponsored talks.

Mansour Saleh, deputy head of the media department of the Southern Transitional Council (STC), said negotiations with the government continued. There has been an initiative put forth by Riyadh but it has yet to be approved by the government. Saleh did not reveal the terms of the initiative.

Speaking to The Arab Weekly from Cairo, Saleh said: “Regardless of the results of the Jeddah dialogue, the situation in the southern provinces will not be the same as before the talks, since it became obvious that the legitimate government is unwilling to reach solutions to end the crisis.

“Rather, it has put itself in an embarrassing position between choosing to go along with the [Arab] Coalition’s initiative or joining the Qatari-Iranian-Turkish axis, which is blocking the confrontation with the Houthis.”

Saleh said the STC was willing to give self-rule to south Yemen until the end of the fight against the Houthi rebels and then begin negotiations for a comprehensive solution.

He said that the STC has dealt responsibly with the Arab Coalition’s efforts and hopes that the government would leave the “square of betrayal and not depend on projects which are hostile to the Arab project.”

“If the negotiations fail, the Transitional Council and the southerners in general have their cause for which they have sacrificed so much and they will defend it until victory,” Saleh said. “Searching for peace based on the right of the southern people to restore their state and determine their political future remains our first goal.”

Observers say prolonging the Jeddah negotiations proves some regional parties are trying to hinder efforts at closing the ranks of the anti-Houthi camp. This was shown in the government’s refusal to meet with the STC after a call for talks in August and its manoeuvrings stalling negotiations.

That observation is consistent with what is happening in Muscat, where Yemeni government representatives are engaged in direct talks with Houthi leaders and some southern groups supported by Iran in an attempt to form a Yemeni Anti-Arab Coalition bloc.

STC leaders pointed out that those negotiations reveal the disintegration of the government camp and what is happening in Muscat “is not reassuring and is being sponsored by Iran and Qatar; its main objective is to foment discord in the southern provinces, with the involvement of several movements hostile to the Arab Coalition in Mahrah and some of the leaders of Shabwa affiliated with Islah party,” Saleh said.

Saleh said “the conspiracies” of the government, operating under the control of Islah, a political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, began after the liberation of southern governorates from the Houthis in July 2015.

At that time, the agreement was that the government in Aden would act as the starting point for efforts to end the Houthi coup because the revolt was a danger to Yemen and other Gulf countries and because the Houthis are an Iranian instrument.

Saleh said that, instead of regaining its legitimacy in Sana’a, the government circumvented victories by people of the south over Iranian elements. It sabotaged the work of the leaders of the southern resistance, cut off their funding and stopped promotions of military officers who had participated in battles against the Houthis.

All of that took place while the southern Yemeni governorates suffered from the collapse of public services, especially water, electricity and fuel, despite that the provinces provide 80% of Yemen’s total wealth.

This situation made the people of southern Yemen realise that there was an effort to punish them for refusing to enable Islah and terrorist organisations to gain a foothold in the southern governorates.

Saleh said the STC, in cooperation with the Arab Coalition, was trying to alleviate the crises and, because of those efforts, public services have never been better.

Saleh said that the STC eliminated terrorist organisations in Aden, including presidential protection brigades, whose camps had become “military barracks for terrorist organisations… Those elements have never been part of the Yemeni military establishment. They are basically under the control of [Yemeni] Vice-President Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.”

He pointed out that the Arab Coalition was aware that, during the events of Aden, southern Yemen residents did not target the government’s forces. He stressed that “the availability of this information to the coalition countries made them intervene in the crisis proactively and attempt to end the conditions that had provided a safe haven for these terrorist elements.”

Saleh described the security situation in Aden as “very good.” He said this was also the case of most of Abyan governorate, noting that efforts of southern security services continue to preserve private and public interests.

The southern armed forces scored a series of victories over the Houthis in Dhale and they have penetrated deep into the northern areas to secure the border and prevent heavy artillery from reaching Houthi militias that have been targeting residential neighbourhoods. Southern forces reportedly inflicted heavy losses on pro-Iranian elements, including killing prominent leaders.

Saleh added that there were efforts to revive the economy and provide basic services, cultural and sports activities and all that enhances the chances of a normal life.

He said the establishment of the southern security services was carried out through a comprehensive military plan in which the Arab Coalition forces and the STC participated.

The STC’s structure was established in parallel with a military one consisting of the southern resistance forces and Security Belt and Elites forces, in addition to the council’s efforts on the diplomatic level that have enabled it to claim a significant international attention to the southern cause in Yemen.

Saleh said the international community considered the STC the most prominent force in southern Yemen.

Saleh responded to criticism of the STC for not being open to other southern components, saying the council includes all of southern political and partisan components and entities.

He added that STC Chairman Major-General Aidarus al-Zubaidi insists that he is ready to meet with every southern person who wants to talk and said “whoever could not reach us, we will go to him.”

Saleh explained that STC had been subjected to attempts by regional and internal parties to corrupt its relationship with the Arab Coalition members. By refusing to meet with the STC in August, the legitimate government sought to push it into the position of rejecting any subsequent dialogue. However, the scheme failed.

STC members said they had no objection to returning to Riyadh for more negotiations. The council said it was eager to accept the Arab Coalition’s initiatives to end the crisis.