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Op-Ed: Yemen separatists withdraw their negotiating team

Background

As a recent article
notes: “The pact was reached after more than a month of indirect talks in Saudi Arabia. Under the deal, the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) and other southerners would join a new national cabinet and place all forces under control of the internationally recognized government.” The STC which is allied with the Saudis in a conflict with the Houthi rebels who control much of the north including the capital Sanaa had taken control of Aden and some adjacent areas with the support of the UAE. The unity deal agreed to in November was intended to stop fighting over the territory taken by the STC.

Salim al-Awlaqi a member of the presidential council of the STC said the move was in protest at recent violence against STC supporters in Shabwa province. The STC blames Islamists within the Yemen government for the violence.

Hadi government refusing to implement much of the November deal

Not only had the Hadi Saudi-backed government refused to implement much of the deal, it has ignored deadlines. The Hadi government says it is unfair that their elected government, even though its mandate expired years ago, should be forced to share power with a separatist group.

The Saudis may in time decide that they should make peace with the STC at the expense of the Hadi government and give the Hadi government the choice of either implementing the terms of the deal or losing Saudi support. Without Saudi support the Hadi government is likely to lose any bargaining power. The Saudis may chose to make peace with the Houthi rebels as well as the STC in a bid to extricate themselves from a war they seem to be unable to win and has been internationally condemned. The Houthis might perhaps agree to a separate independent South Yemen if the Houthis were recognized as the rulers in the north. However the Houthis are supported by Iran and the Saudis are no doubt reluctant to give Iran any more influence in the area.

Future is unclear

Hostilities between the Saudis and the STC which as mentioned is supported by the UAE may not resume immediately. Perhaps the STC is simply trying to gain some leverage to get the Saudis to force the Hadi government to implement the deal. The Saudis may soon lose patience with the Hadi government. It is hard to see how the Saudis gain much through their support of a regime that lost to the Houthis in the north in part through its lack of popular support.

It’s not clear that the STC withdrawal from negotiations will immediately mean a resumption of hostilities in the south however, and the STC may just be trying to gain some leverage by suspending cooperation. The Saudis would be wise to force Hadi to cooperate in implementing the deal.

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