UN welcomes Saudi-led talks to resolve Aden tensions

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have called for dialogue between the government and southern forces after weekend fighting

Fighters of the UAE-trained Security Belt Force, dominated by backers of the the Southern Transitional Council (STC) which seeks independence for south Yemen, pose for a picture while standing before an armoured vehicle in Khor Maksar in the centre of Yemen's second city of Aden on August 12, 2019. The head of Yemen's separatist movement said he was ready to take part in Saudi-brokered peace talks after clashes with pro-government forces killed dozens in the port city. Southern Transitional Council (STC) leader Aidarus al-Zubaidi had said late on August 11 that he was committed to a ceasefire in Aden, where the separatists have seized the presidential palace and army camps. / AFP / Nabil HASAN
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Preparations for talks between pro-government Yemeni groups are moving forward after recent clashes in the southern port city of Aden.

There was no official confirmation when the meetings would begin, but reports suggest they could start on Thursday.

The UN late on Tuesday said it “welcomed the initiative by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to convene a meeting in Jeddah between the relevant stakeholders to resolve their differences through dialogue".

The Southern Transitional Council at the weekend took control of much of Aden after days of clashes.

The STC is a powerful group that was crucial in the battle to take Hodeidah from the Iran-backed Houthi rebels last year.

Yemeni people walk past shops damaged during clashes between separatists and government forces in Aden, Yemen August 13, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman

Saudi King Salman and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, met in Makkah to discuss the situation in Yemen this week.

They reaffirmed their call for parties in Yemen to “prioritise dialogue and reason in the interest of Yemen and its people".

On Sunday, STC leader Gen Aidarous Al Zubaidi said he was committed to a ceasefire in Aden and to taking part in Saudi-brokered peace talks with the government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi.

The government also affirmed “its commitment to respect the call of the Saudi-led coalition to a ceasefire”.

On Wednesday, STC spokesman Saleh Alnoud told Reuters that the group was looking for an equal seat at the table in peace talks.

It was not involved in the UN-brokered summit in Stockholm last December, with only representatives of the Houthis and Mr Hadi’s administration present.

But UN envoy Martin Griffiths is keen to hold further discussions that engage a broader cross-section of Yemeni society.

"Any position of power has to be in the hands of southerners," Mr Alnoud said.

"Southerners need to be given the power to govern themselves and southerners need to be engaged as an equal partner in the peace process."

He said secession was “a real possibility” and that "we can still be part of Yemen, Hadi can still be president, but the south is to be ruled and governed by southerners".

Mr Alnoud said that "giving up control of Aden is not on the table at the moment".

"We are there to remain but to remain for a positive reason: to maintain stability," he said.

On Wednesday, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, said a recent meeting between Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Houthis was a clear indication that the group was just a proxy of Tehran.

“Houthi relations with Iran, for long in search for proper designation, is clearer following their leadership’s meeting with Ayatollah Khamenei,” Dr Gargash said in a tweet on Wednesday.

“It is stated in black and white in their statement of fealty, the Houthis are a proxy and that is the correct terminology.”

Mr Khamenei hosted Houthi rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam at his Tehran residence late Tuesday.

"I declare my support for the mujahid [fighters] of Yemen," he said after the talks, in which support for the Houthis was discussed.

epa07772029 A handout photo made available by the supreme leader official website shows, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (R) talks to Mohammed Abdul Salam the spokesman of Yemen's Ansar Allah movement (Houthi) in Tehran, Iran, 13 August 2019. Media reported that Khamenei said to Salam that stand with all your power against Saudi Arabia and Emirates conspiracies and don't let them to breakdown Yemen.  EPA/IRANIAN LEADER OFFICE HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

The STC has blamed the Islah party, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, for being complicit in the deadly missile strike by the Houthi rebels on their southern forces this month.

At least 30 officers, including a senior commander, were killed on August 1 when a rocket hit Al Jalaa military camp in Aden.

The party has rejected the accusation.

Mr Alnoud said that allowing the Security Belt forces, the STC’s military wing, or Aden police to take control of security for military camps would be a step forward.

The rocket attack and the sudden  fighting last week shattered the calm around the southern port city, which has had something of a renaissance in recent months.

Yemenis from much of the south and centre of the country flocked to the town at the end of Ramadan, enjoying the relative safety of the city, shopping in the new malls and spending the days at new beach resorts.

Six counter-terrorism units trained by the UAE for the Aden police force have made progress in improving the security situation and reports having prevented plots in the city.

The recent Aden clashes have killed 40 people and left 260 injured, the UN said on Tuesday night.

Areas of the city have been badly damaged and there is fear that municipal services, including water and power delivery, could shut down.

"It is critical that all parties work to ensure that the events of the past days do not lead to further instability in Aden or elsewhere in Yemen," a spokesman for the UN said.

"We emphasise that the conflict in Yemen can only be resolved through an inclusive political process."