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Yemen separatists announce self-rule in south, complicating peace efforts

UAE scales down military presence in Yemen as Gulf tensions flare

Yemen’s main southern separatist group announced early on Sunday it would establish self-rule in areas under its control, which the Saudi-backed government warned would have “catastrophic consequences”. 

The move threatens to renew conflict between the UAE-backed separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) and the Saudi-backed government, nominal allies in Yemen’s war, even as the United Nations is trying to secure a nationwide truce to confront the novel coronavirus. 

The STC deployed its forces on Sunday in Aden, the southern port which is the interim seat of the government ousted from the capital, Sanaa, by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement. Reuters journalists saw STC fighters in a column of pickup trucks and military vehicles riding down a main street in Aden. 

The STC is one of the main groups fighting against the Houthis as part of a coalition led by Saudi Arabia. But the separatists, long backed by Saudi coalition partner the United Arab Emirates, have clashed with government forces in the past. 

In a statement, the STC announced emergency rule in Aden and all southern governorates, saying it would take control of Aden’s port and airport and other state institutions such as the central bank. 

The Saudi-backed government and southern regions of Shabwa, Hadhramout and Socotra, among the few areas under coalition control, issued separate statements rejecting the declaration. 

Yemen’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Al-Hadhrami said the STC announcement constituted “a resumption of its armed insurgency” and a “rejection and complete withdrawal from the Riyadh agreement”, a deal which ended a previous stand-off between the separatists and the government last year. 

The STC “will bear alone the dangerous and catastrophic consequences for such an announcement”, he said in a statement. 

STC Vice-President Hani Ali Brik accused the government of hampering the agreement. In a Twitter post, he reiterated accusations against Hadi’s government of mismanagement and corruption, charges it denies.