Southern Yemen reconciliation plan enters second stage

Riyadh Agreement addresses differences between southern leaders and internationally recognised government

A reinforcement convoy of Yemen's Security Belt Force dominated by members of the the Southern Transitional Council (STC) seeking independence for southern Yemen, heads from the southern city of Aden to Abyan province on November 26, 2019, amid tensions with the forces of Saudi-backed President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi. Saudi Arabia brokered on November 5 a power sharing agreement between Yemen's internationally recognised government and southern separatists of the STC, in a bid to end infighting that had distracted the Riyadh-led coalition from its battle against the Iran-backed Huthi rebels. / AFP / Saleh Al-OBEIDI

Yemen’s government and southern leaders have begun the second stage of a Saudi-brokered reconciliation plan that ended clashes between their forces last year.

An agreement to start implementing key points of the Riyadh Agreement from January 10 was signed by the government and the Southern Transitional Council a day earlier, a source in the STC-affiliated forces told The National.

“The procedures related to the implementation of the second phase of the Riyadh Agreement are supposed to be carried out within a 15-day period starting from Friday,“ the source said.

“We agreed to start implementing the troop withdrawals from the provinces of Abyan and Shabwa. Before that, the [pro-government] forces which moved from the northern provinces of Marib and Jawf on April 19 last year must return to their camps in their provinces, with all their personnel and weapons. These forces will be replaced by the local security forces in each province, including the Elite Forces and the Security Belt Forces, in line with the Riyadh Agreement,“ Nazar Haiytham, an STC spokesman, told The National.

“President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi will appoint a new governor and security director for Aden after consultations with the STC; this will be implemented in parallel with the troop withdrawal. Moreover we agreed that the heavy and medium weapons in Aden will be collected in camps under the Arab Coalition supervision,“ Mr Haiytham said.

The Saudi-led Arab Coalition supports Yemeni troops and pro-government militias against Houthi rebels who seized the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014 and still control much of northern Yemen. Although allies in the fight against the Houthis, differences between the government and STC sparked clashes between their forces last year. The STC forces seized much of Aden, the temporary capital, before Saudi Arabia intervened to broker a power-sharing agreement signed in November.

Mr Haiytham said the STC was committed to complying with all conditions of the Riyadh Agreement as further disputes would only benefit the Iran-backed rebels.

“To prove our desire for peace, we have handed over to the Arab Coalition prisoners from the pro-government forces who were detained during the clashes in August and we are waiting for the other side to hand over our prisoners to the Coalition to be swapped soon,“ he said.

The Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Al Jaber praised the progress made so far. “I commend the efforts of President Hadi and the teams of his government and STC for their effective response to implement the pact,“ the ambassador wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

President Hadi’s adviser Ahmed Obeid Bin Dagher, who heads the government committee in charge of implementing the Riyadh Agreement, said earlier in the week that several military, security and political steps to implement the second phase of the agreement had already been agreed.

“These steps will be carried out simultaneously with appointing a governor of Aden and chief of security within the upcoming period,” the official Saba news agency quoted Mr Bin Dagher as saying.