February 11, 2018

Yemeni government-southern separatist truce holds despite accusations

The Islamist Al-Islah Party had reached out to different factions to forge new alliances following the Aden talks.
Fighters from the separatist Southern Transitional Council patrol the Old City of the government’s de facto capital Aden, on January 30. (AFP)
Uneasy calm. Fighters from the separatist Southern Transitional Council patrol the Old City of the government’s de facto capital Aden, on January 30. (AFP)

SANA'A - Efforts by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to calm tensions between the internationally recognised government of Yemen and the secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC) seem to have made progress, despite both sides blaming the other for deadly clashes that broke out in Aden.

High-ranking officials on both sides pledged to de-escalate tensions and asked the coalition supporting the government to investigate the causes of recent fighting, in which at least 29 people died.

STC spokesman Lutfi Shatara told the pro-southern Aden al-Ghad newspaper that the council was committed to “de-escalation” and was acting responsibly. He said the Saudi-led coalition was “aware who the obstructing party is,” in reference to the clashes.

The internationally recognised government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi pledged to maintain the peace. Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher said the “mission today is to bridge the gap, heal the wounds and abandon political escalation.”

“Based on directives from the president, we will work for social reconciliation in Aden and neighbouring provinces to pave the way for comprehensive national reconciliation,” bin Dagher said. He also called on Saudi Arabia to investigate the cause of the Aden clashes.

Fighting broke out January 28 after a deadline set by the STC for Hadi to dissolve the government over allegations of corruption and incompetence passed.

Yemeni analysts said the Islamist Al-Islah Party had reached out to different factions to forge new alliances following the Aden talks. Al-Islah, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood movement, was said to be using a political charm offensive to generate support.

The strategy, according to analysts, includes reaching out to members on the fringe of the Southern Movement, including Qatar-backed Hassan Baum, who heads the hard-line wing of the movement, to give the impression that Al-Islah was on good terms with the STC.

Leading the group’s media outreach is Hadi’s vice-president and one of the founders of Al-Islah, General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar.

Ahmar said he was not opposed to the legitimate peaceful demands of the STC and was prepared to stand with STC Supreme Commander Aidarus al-Zubaidi against the Iran-allied Houthi rebels.

A member of Hadi’s government posted a video on social media claiming Aden was back to normal.

“We confirm to you that the government is still here, the government is not besieged and will not be besieged because the government is here to serve the people,” Minister of State Salah al-Sayadi posted along with the 2-minute video on Facebook.

He said he posted the video so people “do not fall victim to the rumours and lies being spread by some media and social networking websites.”

It seems Al-Islah’s outreach was aimed at repairing the group’s image following the Aden clashes and a belief that Al-Islah was the main source of dispute within the Hadi government and was hindering the liberation process, especially in the region of Taiz.

Tensions between the STC and the Hadi government are long running. Last May, Hadi dismissed Zubaidi as Aden governor, after which Zubaidi joined forces with the southern separatists.

Many southern Yemenis said they feel exploited by leaders in the north. That sentiment led to the formation in 2007 of the Southern Mobility Movement, which seeks to have South Yemen once again an independent state.

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