Yemeni minister, southern leader trade accusations
Yemen’s interior minister says a leader of the southern separatist moment is “fomenting sedition” by calling on followers to topple the country’s internationally recognised government.
The minister, Ahmed El-Meseery, said in a statement late Wednesday that the call by Hani Ben Braik, deputy head of the so-called Southern Transitional Council, only serves the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Yemen’s government forces have been at war with the Houthis, who control the north, since 2015.
The conflict started in 2014 when the Houthi rebels captured the capital, Sanaa, and expelled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government, which is now based in the south.
Southern Yemen is also the base of separatists. An online video shows Ben Braik calling on Yemenis to march on the presidential palace in the southern city of Aden and topple Hadi’s government.
Yemeni separatists clashed Wednesday with forces loyal to the internationally backed government near the presidential palace in the southern city of Aden, security officials and witnesses said.
The fighting Wednesday came amid urgings by Btaik to “topple” Hadi’s government. The Southern Transitional Council later supported Braik’s call.
Braik accused Hadi and his forces of being members of or loyal to the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a pan-Arab political movement that some Arab countries view as a terrorist organization.
The council, led by Aidarous al-Zubaidi, a former Aden governor, was formed after thousands of pro-secessionist Yemenis rallied behind him over the past two years. But the formation of the council is seen by Hadi’s government as an act that “targets the country’s interests, its future and social fabric.”
The UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, voiced his concern over the violence in Aden and urged all parties to abandon violence and resolve their differences through dialogue.
Col. Turki al-Maliki, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, was quoted in the state-run Saudi Press Agency as saying that the coalition “defiantly rejects such serious development” in Aden. He called on all parties to work with Hadi’s government to “overcome the critical period.”
Anwar Gargash, UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, said that the clashes were alarming and that escalation can’t be an option after last week’s suicide attack by the Islamic State group in Aden that killed 11 people.
Officials and witnesses said the clashes killed one presidential guard and wounded at least four people, including two civilians. Hadi’s prime minister and several Cabinet members and high-ranking officials left the presidential palace over the past two days to other areas in the city, they said.
A video circulated online showed presidential guards apparently protecting the palace.
“The presidential palace is OK. All matters are OK. Nobody got past the gate. They did not advance,” an armed man says in the video.
A top government official described Braik’s calls as an attempted coup. The officials said the clashes subsided after Saudi Arabia intervened to calm tensions between both sides. Yemeni officials said armed Saudi troops with armored vehicles arrived in Aden to take part in guarding the presidential palace and prevent further clashes.
Another video showed a man with an AK-47 assault rifle opening fire while standing at the top of a hill overlooking a funeral possession of a southern militia leader killed in a Houthi attack last week. Government officials claimed there was a separatist militia plan in place to use the funeral as a cover for their “coup.”
More troops from the presidential guards were deployed in the district of Crater where the presidential palace is located, the officials said, as forces of the so-called Southern Transitional Council gathered in the district of Khor Maksar. Both districts are in Aden.
The officials demanded anonymity because they weren’t authorized to brief the media, while the witnesses who commented feared reprisal.
The clashes come a week after a Houthi missile attack killed a top southern commander, Monier al Yafie, also known by his nickname Aboul Yamama, whose supporters were rallying in Crater to bury his body.
Last week, the Houthis said they fired a ballistic missile at a military parade of the same group of fighters known as the Security Belt, killing at least 40 troops.
The clashes also came several weeks after the UAE said it has begun to draw down its forces, pulling out several thousand troops from Yemen.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of Sanaa by the Houthis, who drove out the internationally recognized government. In March 2015, the coalition launched its air campaign to prevent the rebels from overrunning the south.
Iran has repeatedly denied supplying the Houthis with drone or missile technology, both of which the rebels have increasingly used, including to target Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has claimed that Iran supplied the missiles or at least helped the Houthis manufacture them from parts that were in Yemen before the war.
(AW and agencies)