Yemen’s STC strikes deal with Hadi to end southern strife

“We are trying to establish peace between the Southern Transitional Council and the government of Hadi," Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said.
Friday 25/10/2019
A fighter of the UAE-trained Security Belt Force, dominated by members of the Southern Transitional Council (STC)  stops cars at a security checkpoint, September 4. (AFP)
A fighter of the UAE-trained Security Belt Force, dominated by members of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) stops cars at a security checkpoint, September 4. (AFP)

LONDON - Yemen’s Southern Transitional Council (STC) struck a power-sharing deal with the government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi to end months-long infighting in the country’s south.

The initial deal would see the STC handed to a number of ministries and the government return to the southern city of Aden, according to officials and reports in Saudi media.

A day before the deal was agreed to, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said that an agreement was expected soon.

In an interview with the French newspaper “Liberation,”Al-Jubeir said that it was important to end the dispute between Hadi’s government and the STC to ensure a renewed focus on fighting the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

“We are trying to establish peace between the Southern Transitional Council and the government of Hadi. I think we are close to that,” he said.

The Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths also met with Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman in Riyadh October 24 to discuss ways to support the political process in Yemen as well as efforts to implement the Stockholm Convention.

During the meeting, Prince Khalid briefed Griffith on the kingdom’s efforts to mediate a solution to the situation in southern Yemen. The special envoy expressed appreciation for the kingdom’s efforts and highlighted Saudi Arabia’s leading role in supporting the United Nations efforts to find a political solution to the crisis.

Security Belt Forces — dominated by the STC — in August took control of Aden, which had served as the government’s base since it was ousted from the capital Sana’a by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in 2014.

The clashes between the separatists and government forces — who for years fought on the same side against the Houthis — had raised fears the country could break apart entirely.

The warring factions have in recent weeks been holding indirect and discreet talks mediated by Saudi Arabia in the kingdom’s western city of Jeddah.

“We signed the final draft of the agreement and are waiting for the joint signature within days,” an STC official visiting Riyadh said.

Both Hadi and STC leader Aidarous al-Zoubeidi are expected to attend a ceremony in Riyadh, he added.

A Yemeni government official who delcinedto be named confirmed the deal had been agreed to and was expected to be signed by October 29.

It sets out “the reformation of the government, with the STC included in a number of ministries, and the return of the government to Aden within seven days after the agreement being signed,” he said.

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ekhbariya state television network said a government of 24 ministers would be formed, “divided equally between the southern and northern governorates of Yemen.”

Under the deal, the Yemeni prime minister would return to Aden to “reactivate state institutions,” it added.

Al-Ekhbariya said the Saudi-led military coalition which backs the government against the Houthis would oversee a “joint committee” to implement the agreement.

Thabit al-Awlaki, a member of the STC presidency wrote on Twitterthat he had a phone call with STC leader Aidarous al-Zoubeidi, noting that al-Zoubeidi described the agreement reached in Riyadh as “a good step and the people of the South are the trustees of their cause.”

Awlaki explained that the terms of the Riyadh agreement will be “officially” announced later with details of the “political, administrative, security and military” aspects.

The kingdom “has succeeded in bringing together the Yemeni government and the STC and the coming days will witness a remarkable era in which the Iranian project in Yemen will be defeated,” wrote Saudi strategic expert Zayed al-Amri on Twitter.

The Saudi/UAE-led military coalition entered Yemen in 2015 as the Houthi rebels closed in on Aden, prompting Hadi to flee to the kingdom and live in exile.

The conflict has since killed tens of thousands of people — most of them civilians — and driven millions more to the brink of famine in what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Complicating the fighting in Yemen are deep schisms within the anti-Houthi camp. The supposedly pro-government forces in the south, where power is centred, include pro-independence factions from the north.

The south was an independent state before being forcibly unified in 1990 and the STC has said it wants to regain its lost status.

The STC have received support and training from the UAE, even though it is a key pillar in the Saudi-led coalition.

Abu Dhabi accuses Yemeni authorities of allowing Islamist elements to gain influence within their ranks.

The mistrust between the allies has posed a headache for Saudi Arabia, which remains focused on fighting the Houthis who are aligned with Riyadh’s arch foe Iran.

The UAE earlier this month handed over to Saudi forces key positions in Aden in a bid to defuse the tensions and support the negotiations towards a power-sharing deal.

Riyadh in recent days appointed a new foreign minister whose complicated portfolio also includes efforts to strike a broader Yemen peace deal.

The Houthis have offered to halt all attacks on Saudi Arabia as part of a peace initiative to end the devastating conflict, later repeating their proposal despite continued air strikes from the Saudi-led coalition.

The offer came after the Houthis claimed responsibility for attacks on September 14 against two key Saudi oil installations that temporarily knocked out half of the OPEC giant’s production.

Riyadh and Washington, however, blamed Iran for the attacks — a charge denied by Tehran.