Conflict Alerts # 4, 17 August 2019
On August 15, 2019 thousands of Yemenis marched in support of separatist fighters who seized Sanaa, the southern port city from loyalists of Yemen's internationally-recognised government. Khormaskar district saw rallies by south-loyalists waving flags of the former South Yemen state and banners of the separatist Southern Transitional Council, which pursues the secession of south of Yemen.
The demonstrators demanded that the STC holds on to the positions in Aden which they had ceased from Yemen’s internationally recognized government. Meanwhile, Yemeni officials said they would not engage in negotiations until the UAE-backed forces withdrew from Aden. Consequently, on August 17, the STC withdrew from all government positions in Aden.
Before the protest, on August 14th, Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdullah al-Hadrami requested the STC to hand over arms to the exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government.
Since, the overthrow of Hadi government by Houthi rebels in 2014, Aden has been the de-facto capital of Yemen. On August 11, the Security Belt, a UAE-backed militia, allied with the STC seized the government military bases and effective control of Aden following four days of fighting with the troops loyal to Hadi. As per the United Nations, over 40 were killed in the clashes.
The Yemen war commenced in late 2014 with Houthis (supporters of the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh) captured much of Yemen and the capital Sanaa. In March 2015, with UAE-Saudi-led coalition launching a deadly air campaign, the conflict escalated. The coalition aimed to restore the internationally recognized Hadi government and defeat the rebels. Ever since tens of thousands have perished, over 85,000 children have died of starvation, and 24.1 million citizens need aid. Yemen war today is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The current escalation is a straightforward secession demand by the separatist, stemming from south becoming a minority post-unification of Yemen.
Current clashes have exposed divides between the UAE and Saudi Arabia regarding Yemen’s future. The difference in opinions of Saudis and Emiratis were evident with UAE effectively pulling out of Yemen during the previous months. It threatens to commence a new dimension in the multi-layered Yemen war. Abu Dhabi’s interest is in securing the strategic Bab el-Mandeb strait. For Riyadh, it is another proxy war with Iran. However, Saudi intentions in Yemen are becoming more muddled.
Nevertheless, STC’s withdrawal from government positions in Aden is a clear signal of urgency to bring all parties of the “civil war within the civil war” onto the negotiating table. The developments may skew the Yemen conflict significantly.