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article imageSeparatists' seizure of Aden makes Yemen govt weaker than ever

By Shatha YAISH (AFP)     Aug 14, 2019 in World

Yemen's internationally-recognised government is weaker than ever following Aden's seizure by southern separatists, who are likely to opt for negotiations to resolve the crisis rather than declare independence, analysts say.

The government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi held the secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC) and their UAE backers responsible for the "consequences of the coup" after they captured Aden's presidential palace on Saturday.

"Hadi's government has been greatly weakened by events in Aden. It has now lost control of both its capitals," said Elisabeth Kendall from the University of Oxford's Pembroke College.

The government relocated to Aden after Iran-aligned Huthi rebels took control of the capital Sanaa in a major offensive in September 2014.

The Saudi-led coalition, which includes the United Arab Emirates, intervened months later on the government's side.

Peter Salisbury, a Yemen analyst at the International Crisis Group think tank, described the Aden takeover as "a real blow to the Hadi government's credibility".

"This latest development highlights the fact that his presidency is more symbolic; a holding vehicle for state legitimacy (rather) than based on the practicalities of governance," Salisbury told AFP.

But Hadi's government gives "legal cover" to the coalition's military intervention, he added.

The president is however absent from Aden, having fled years ago to Riyadh to escape the rebels' offensive.

The president "is out of touch" according to Farea al-Muslimi, an associate fellow at London's Chatham House think tank.

Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi fled Aden years ago and is based in Saudi Arabia
Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi fled Aden years ago and is based in Saudi Arabia
Bandar AL-JALOUD, Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/File

"The Yemeni government is "crumbling more than ever before," he told AFP.

Separatists are pushing for a return to independence for the south, which unified with the north in 1990.

"The STC gained military control and now wants to turn that into a political reality, but its ability to gain political legitimacy is linked to Hadi's rule, which it has undermined," said Muslimi.

- Dialogue or secession -

The separatists operate under the STC which is headed by Aidarus al-Zubaidi, Aden's former governor who was sacked by Hadi in 2017 and maintains strong links with Abu Dhabi.

The Council is backed by the majority of UAE-trained Security Belt fighters, who have been engaged in the battle against the Huthis.

Analysts believe the separatists, under pressure from Saudi Arabia, will likely opt for negotiations rather than declare southern independence.

"The STC's immediate aim is to be represented in talks for peace and the future shape of Yemen," Kendall told AFP.

"The STC is in a strong position... It undoubtedly holds all the cards in Aden," she added.

But despite the group having the support of militias across the south, Kendall warned not all successionists back the council and some southern Yemenis do not want independence.

"If the STC tries to exert influence outside its immediate Aden sphere, we could see conflict blow up in the south," said Kendall.

Yemeni separatists who seek an independent south say they are ready for Saudi-brokered peace talks a...
Yemeni separatists who seek an independent south say they are ready for Saudi-brokered peace talks after days of deadly fighting with pro-government forces in the southern city of Aden

Although the separatists are unlikely to easily give up their gains in Aden, Muslimi ruled out any immediate move towards independence.

"If partition happens now, Saudi Arabia will be accused of breaking up Yemen. That would carry a heavy price for the Saudis, but not necessarily for the Emirates," he said.

The presence of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State group also make setting up an independent state particularly challenging, said Muslimi.

Negotiations may instead result in a power-sharing deal, with the STC being represented in the cabinet in return for the government's safe return to Aden, according to Salisbury.

"The STC clearly plans on controlling the south of Yemen in its entirety and eventually declaring independence," he said.

"But in the short term they are likely to at least enter into talks with the government."

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