Yemeni separatists abandoned their declaration of self-rule in the south on Wednesday and pledged to implement a stalled Saudi-brokered peace deal, mending a rift between allies in the war against Houthi rebels.
The Southern Transitional Council (STC) proclaimed self-governance in April after accusing the government of failing to perform its duties and of “conspiring” against the southern cause, pushing the war-ravaged country deeper into crisis.
The breakdown between the one-time allies had complicated a long and separate conflict between a Saudi-led military coalition and the Iran-allied rebels, who control much of the north, including the capital Sanaa.
The STC “announces that it is abandoning its self-rule declaration” to allow the implementation of a power-sharing deal known as the Riyadh Agreement, spokesman Nizar Haitham wrote on Twitter.
He acknowledged the announcement came after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates exerted pressure to row back on their decision.
Saudi Arabia said it had proposed a plan to “accelerate” the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported early Wednesday.
The plan calls for the Yemeni prime minister to form a new government within 30 days, as well as the appointment of a new governor and security director for second city Aden where the government had set up base.
“Once this is implemented, the government should commence its work in Aden, and oversee the completion of the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement in accordance with all its clauses and tracks,” SPA said, citing an unnamed Saudi official.
Yemen‘s internationally recognized government welcomed the announcement, with spokesman Rajeh Badi expressing hope that this would be a “serious and true start” to implementing the Riyadh Agreement.
Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, exiled in Riyadh, separately announced the appointment of a new police commander and governor for Aden.
Saudi Arabia‘s efforts “have succeeded in bringing together the Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council in accepting the mechanism proposed by the kingdom to implement the Riyadh Agreement,” deputy defense minister Prince Khalid bin Salman said on Twitter.
I salute H.E the Yemeni President, the Yemeni gov. and the STC, who expressed their support for KSA's efforts to accelerate the Riyadh agreement. I am optimistic and confident about its implementation, and parties coming together to put the Yemeni people's interest first.
— Khalid bin Salman خالد بن سلمان (@kbsalsaud) July 29, 2020
If it holds, the breakthrough should allow the Saudi-led coalition and its allies to refocus their energies on the war against their common foe — the Houthi rebels.
“This largely means the Saudis want to de-escalate in Yemen and push the warring parties towards peace,” Fatima Abo Alasrar, a scholar at the Middle East Institute, told AFP.
“Currently, without a united response, the Saudis, the Yemeni government and the STC are on the defensive in the war, not offensive, because the Houthis are attacking their areas with impunity.”
‘War Within a War’
The tussle for control of the south had exposed divisions between the coalition partners — Saudi Arabia, which backs the government, and the United Arab Emirates, a backer and funder of the STC.
Yemen’s separatists — who have long agitated for independence in the south — had signed the power-sharing deal in Riyadh last November that sought to quell the “civil war within a civil war.”
The Riyadh agreement had been welcomed as preventing the break-up of Yemen and hailed as a possible stepping stone towards ending the wider conflict.
It came after deadly clashes broke out last August between the government and STC forces who seized control of Aden, ousting unionist forces who had set up base there when President Hadi fled the Houthi-held capital Sanaa in February 2015.
But the Riyadh pact quickly became defunct, failing to meet deadlines for key measures including forming a new cabinet with equal representation for southerners, and the reorganization of military forces.
Wednesday’s breakthrough comes as Houthi rebels are again on the offensive against government forces, with no end in sight to Yemen’s long conflict.
Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.
The Arab world’s poorest country, already devastated by conflict and malnutrition, also faces the coronavirus pandemic that its decrepit health system is ill-equipped to handle.