New pressure building in Yemen to implement the Riyadh Agreement

The president of the Southern Transitional Council is expected to make an upcoming visit to Riyadh.
Tuesday 19/05/2020
A fighter loyal to Yemen’s separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) holds the separatist flag in the southern Abyan province on May 18. (AFP)
The road to Riyadh. A fighter loyal to Yemen’s separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) holds the separatist flag in the southern Abyan province on May 18. (AFP)

ADEN –Informed political sources said Aidarous al-Zubaidi, president of the Southern Transitional Council (STC), is planning a visit to Riyadh to discuss the Arab coalition’s efforts to stop escalating confrontations in the governorate of Abyan (east of Aden) and push the Yemeni government and the STC to implement the Riyadh Agreement, which was brokered by Saudi Arabia and signed in November 2019.

Sources on the ground confirmed to The Arab Weekly that a recent attack by the Muslim Brotherhood-backed government forces at dawn on Monday in Abyan was repelled by STC forces. The development signaled that military confrontations in the zone stretching between the cities of Shakra and Zanzibar had turned into a war of attrition between rival forces, with no visible military or political horizon, according to experts.

Observers point out that the confrontations in Abyan and the lack of a quick victory for either side, which are both signatories of the Riyadh Agreement, may compel them to make serious concessions in order to implement the agreement, especially as Saudi Arabia increases pressure.

On Monday, STC Vice-President Sheikh Hani bin Brik responded to a statement attributed to an official source in the Arab coalition accusing the STC of preventing the Yemeni coast guard from performing their duties. This came hours after it was announced that a ship hoisting the British flag was attacked off the coast of Hadhramaut.

Bin Brik said that the coast guard affiliated with “the Brotherhood government led by Ali Mohsen Saleh al-Ahmar and al-Maqdashi (Yemeni Minister of Defense)” bear full responsibility for the explosions on the coast of Al-Mukalla.

He said that over the past two days, STC forces “had arrested armed groups” on the shores of Aden who were aiming to “carry out operations from within.”

Bin Brik also said that a request had been made by the representative of the coalition in Aden for the head of the self-rule administration to hand over seized boats to the leadership of the government’s Coast Guard. The administration responded, he said, by saying that “the Transitional Council has a high political leadership that the coalition needs to coordinate with and then a decision would be taken.”

“Judging from our bitter experience with the government, by handing over the Coast Guard from the Hadrami elite to the Hadi, Mohsen, and al-Maqdashi’s Ministry of Defence, we have seen how our coasts were handed out to terrorists to come and go as they pleased,” Bin Brik added. “We will not hand over our coasts to the Emirs of the terrorist groups in the legitimate government. The Riyadh agreement provides for a new government which is not controlled by the Brotherhood.”

The STC vice-president called on the Arab coalition to pressure President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi to implement the Riyadh Agreement, which outlines steps for “changing the Brotherhood government and forming an accord government with the Transitional Council.”

There were reports Monday afternoon that an Arab coalition official had accused the STC of preventing Yemeni coast guard forces from performing their duties. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that “the transitional council did not respond to us regarding letting the Yemeni coast guard continue its work,” adding that “the threats to maritime traffic in the Gulf of Aden are real, and all parties should shoulder their responsibilities.”

A member of the Transitional Council, Salem Thabet al-Awlaki, commented on the statements attributed to a source in the coalition. He tweeted that the person authorised to speak on behalf the Arab coalition is its official spokesman, Turki al-Maliki.

Tension escalated after company Stolt Tankers announced that “pirates” had attacked its tanker, the Stolt-Apal, 75 nautical miles off the coast of Yemen on Sunday, sparking accusations between the coalition and the STC through media channels.

Well-informed political sources said  the media statements were part of efforts to pressure the parties to move forward with the Riyadh Agreement and end confrontations in Abyan.

The sources told The Arab Weekly that parallel efforts were ongoing by military and political leaders affiliated with the Qatar-Turkey axis in Yemen to ramp up confrontations in Abyan by bringing in fighters led by Muslim Brotherhood leader Hamoud al-Mikhlafi. These forces were trained in camps funded by Doha in Taiz governorate. Their mission is take part in confrontations in Abyan and open a new front in the Lahj governorate (north of Aden) by using  Muslim Brotherhood brigades, including the fourth brigade of mountain infantry.

The sources pointed out that there were also efforts to undermine the Riyadh Agreement in Hadramout governorate, where confidential sources had already confirmed to The Arab Weekly increased Brotherhood activity.

The sources said that the plan of Yemeni Interior Minister Ahmed al-Maisari, known for his close relations with Doha, was to bring about changes in the leadership of the security forces in liberated governorates that would serve the Turkish and Qatari agenda, and to tighten the Muslim Brotherhood’s grip over security institutions.

On April 25, the STC declared a plan to establish self-rule in Aden and other areas under its control, blaming the Yemeni government of intransigence and refusing to implement the Saudi-brokered agreement on southern Yemen.

The Riyadh pact was reached last year after more than a month of indirect talks in Saudi Arabia. Under the deal, the STC and other southerners would join a new national cabinet and place all forces under control of the internationally recognised government.

Riyadh has been trying to resolve the stand-off to refocus the coalition on fighting the Iran-backed Houthi movement on its southern border. The STC forces are part of the Sunni Muslim alliance that intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Houthis who hold Sana’a and most big urban centres.

Attacks on Aden by Muslim Brotherhood-backed forces are viewed by many observers as a waste of times and resources, aimed at confusing the intervention of the Arab-led coalition at a time when Iran-backed Houthis are in control of Al-Jouf, threatening an attack on Marib and preparing to launch a new offensive against in Al-Bayda.