RIYADH (AFP) – The Saudi-led military coalition in war-torn Yemen yesterday rejected a declaration of self-rule by separatists in the country’s south and demanded “an end to any escalatory actions”.
The breakaway declaration made on Sunday threatens to reignite a “war within a war” in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country, which is already gripped by what the United Nations (UN) calls the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.
The secessionists’ move significantly complicates the country’s five-year-old wider conflict, fought by the coalition and Yemen’s internationally recognised government against Huthi rebels who control much of the north including the capital Sanaa.
Separatists in the south, which used to be an independent country, have repeatedly agitated to break away again – a campaign that was temporarily put to rest with a power-sharing deal signed in Riyadh last November.
But on Sunday, the Southern Transitional Council (STC) declared self-rule in southern Yemen, accusing the government of failing to perform its duties and of “conspiring” against the separatists’ cause.
UN special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths said yesterday he was concerned by the recent declaration, calling for expediting the implementation of the Riyadh deal.
“The Riyadh Agreement provides for the participation of the STC in consultations on the final political solution to end the conflict in Yemen and serving the interests of Yemenis nation-wide,” he said in a statement.
Residents of the southern city of Aden, the government’s temporary capital, reported heavy deployments of STC forces.
A separatist source told AFP they had set up checkpoints “at all government facilities, including the central bank and port of Aden”.
The Yemeni government condemned the move and warned it could lead to a “catastrophic and dangerous” outcome.
The coalition said, according to Saudi Press Agency tweets, that “we re-emphasise the need to promptly implement the Riyadh Agreement”.
“The coalition demands an end to any escalatory actions and calls for return to the agreement by the participating parties.”
Key coalition partner the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has supported the STC, also stressed the importance of abiding by the Riyadh pact.
“Frustration over delay in implementing the agreement is not a reason to unilaterally change the situation,” UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeted.
“We have full confidence in Saudi Arabia’s keenness to implement the agreement.”
The breakdown between the one-time allies comes as the coalition has extended a unilateral ceasefire that it says is aimed at fending off the coronavirus pandemic – an olive branch that has been rejected by the Huthis.
Compounding the country’s troubles, at least 21 people have been killed in flash floods this month, which left Aden’s streets submerged and homes destroyed.
“The latest turn of events is disappointing, especially as the city of Aden and other areas in the south have yet to recover from flooding and are facing the risk of COVID-19,” Griffiths said yesterday.
“Now, more than ever, all political actors must cooperate in good faith, refrain from taking escalatory actions, and put the interests of Yemenis first.”
According to the UN, more than 100,000 people across Yemen have been affected by the torrential rains which damaged roads, bridges and the electricity grid and contaminated water supplies.
“Countless families have lost everything,” the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen Lise Grande said in statement on Sunday.
“This tragedy comes on top of the COVID-19 crisis, which comes on top of the pre-famine last year, which came on top of the worst cholera outbreak in modern history.”