Yemen's government, STC sign power-sharing agreement

The deal reportedly calls for the formation of a cabinet of no more than 24 ministers within 30 days that would have equal representation for northerners and southerners.
Thursday 07/11/2019
A peace-signing ceremony between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the STC in Riyadh, November 5. (UAE Ministry of Presidential Affairs)
A step forward. A peace-signing ceremony between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the STC in Riyadh, November 5. (UAE Ministry of Presidential Affairs)

Yemen's government and the Southern Transitional Council signed an agreement to end a power struggle that opened a new front in the multifaceted Yemen civil war and risked further fragmenting the country.

Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, president of the internationally recognised Yemeni government, and Southern Transitional Council (STC) President Aidarous al-Zubaidi signed the accord November 5 in a ceremony in Riyadh.

In a statement ahead of the ceremony, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz hailed the agreement as a step forward towards a wider political solution. "This agreement will open, God willing, broader talks between Yemeni parties to reach a political solution and end the war," Crown Prince Mohammed said.

The stand-off in southern Yemen opened a new front in the more than 4-year war and fractured a Saudi-led coalition battling the Houthi movement that ousted Hadi’s government from Sana'a in late 2014.

The Saudi envoy to Yemen said the pact, reached after more than a month of indirect talks, would see the STC join a new cabinet along with other southerners and all armed forces would be placed under government control.

US President Donald Trump praised the agreement on Twitter: "A very good start! Please all work hard to get a final deal."

UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, who is trying to restart talks to end a war that has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine, said the deal was an important step. "Listening to southern stakeholders is important to the political efforts to achieve peace in the country," he said in a tweet.

The deal reportedly calls for the formation of a cabinet of no more than 24 ministers within 30 days that would have equal representation for northerners and southerners. The STC would join political talks to end the war.

Military and security forces from both sides, including tens of thousands of STC forces, would be placed under Yemen’s Defence and Interior ministries.

April Longley, a deputy programme director at the International Crisis Group, said the agreement could be positive but it was too early to tell.

"In a best-case scenario, it will put the lid on violence and open the way to more inclusive Yemeni negotiations in which southern separatists, who are an important component on the ground, are also present," she told Reuters.

Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan walks  alongside Yemen's President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Saudi Royal Palace/ AFP)
Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan walks alongside Yemen's President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Saudi Royal Palace/ AFP)

Riyadh has been trying to resolve the standoff to refocus the coalition on facing the threat posed by the Houthis. Though military options are still on the table, the Saudis have been working on other alternatives, including dialogue with the Iran-backed rebels.

A Saudi official revealed there were talks between the two sides.

"We have had an open channel with the Houthis since 2016. We are continuing these communications to support peace in Yemen," a senior Saudi official said. "We don't close our doors with the Houthis."

The official, who declined to be named, gave no details and there was no immediate comment from the Houthis. The development came after Houthi missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities spiked over the summer but lessened in recent weeks.

Washington is meeting with the Houthis, US Assistant Secretary of Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker said during a visit to Saudi Arabia in September.  He did not say whether the Americans were meeting separately with the rebels but analysts said they were most likely happening in consultation with Saudi Arabia.

The confirmation of Saudi talks with Houthis comes amid the slow implementation of a ceasefire in rebel-held Hodeidah, which was reached between the government and the rebels in Sweden late last year. The deal was hailed as Yemen's best chance to end the conflict but there have been reports of breaches by both sides.

"If the Houthis (are) serious to de-escalate and accept to come to the table, Saudi Arabia will support their demand and support all political parties to reach a political solution," the Saudi official said.

The Houthis offered to halt attacks on Saudi Arabia as part of a wider peace initiative. That came after the Houthis claimed responsibility for attacks in September against key Saudi oil installations. Riyadh and Washington, however, blamed Iran for the attacks, a charge denied by Tehran.

(With news agencies)