ADEN (AFP) – The head of Yemen’s separatist movement said he was ready to take part in peace talks after clashes with pro-government forces killed dozens in second city Aden.
Southern Transitional Council (STC) leader Aidarus al-Zubaidi also said last Sunday that he was committed to a ceasefire in Aden, where the separatists have seized the presidential palace and army camps.
Last week’s fighting pitted the Security Belt Force dominated by fighters who back the STC against loyalist forces.
For the past five years both camps have been engaged in a war against Huthi rebels.
Zubaidi, in a televised speech, said last week’s violence had been “provoked” by forces loyal Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
Separatist fighters were left with “only two options: either self-defence, or surrender and accepting the liquidation of our just cause,” Zubaidi said, according to an English translation of his comments posted on the STC website.
He claimed that loyalist forces wanted “to implement a plan based on the assassination of our leaders, and then to provoke our people and liquidate our presence”.
Yemen’s government has accused the STC of staging a “coup” against it.
Separatists and government soldiers have theoretically been allied in a coalition against the Huthi rebels since 2015.
Huthi forces control vast swathes of Yemen’s north, including the capital Sanaa.
The amount of weapons and ammunition found with loyalist forces were “sufficient to fight the Huthi enemy on all fronts without coalition support for at least 12 months”, Zubaidi said.
But he voiced the “readiness” of separatists “to work responsibly in managing this crisis” and to “attend the meeting with full openness”.
“We renew our commitment to continue the ceasefire” which the coalition called for last Saturday, he added.
Both the Yemeni government and separatists said last Sunday they backed the call for dialogue and a suspension of the fighting, which threatened to deepen the country’s humanitarian crisis.
There have been no reports of clashes since then.
Since the fighting flared last Thursday, around 40 people have been killed and 260 others wounded including civilians, according to the United Nations (UN).
Since 2015, fighting between the Huthis and Yemeni loyalists has killed tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, aid agencies said.
The country is in the grip of a humanitarian crisis because of the raging conflict, according to the UN which estimates that almost 80 per cent of Yemen’s 24.1 million are in need of assistance.
Last Sunday, an air strike against a separatist position in Aden and warned of further attacks if they fail to withdraw from positions they seized in the city.
The circumstances around last week’s hostilities remain unclear however.
Separatist commanders accused the Al-Islah party of killing one of its commanders and “infiltrating” the Hadi government.