RIYADH (Reuters) – The leader of southern Yemeni separatists has arrived in Saudi Arabia for talks aimed at ending a standoff in Aden port between the separatists and Yemen’s Saudi-backed government, who had been nominal allies under a Sunni Muslim military coalition.
Saudi Arabia, the coalition leader, called for a summit after the separatists on Aug. 10 took over Aden, interim seat of the government, in a move that fractured the alliance. The ousted Yemeni government and coalition partner the United Arab Emirates traded blame over the crisis late on Tuesday.
It was not clear if a delayed meeting involving both Yemeni sides would go ahead after the separatists extended their grip on the south on Tuesday by seizing government military camps in nearby Abyan.
The separatist fighters are part of the Saudi-led alliance that intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Houthis, who ousted President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014. His government rebased to Aden.
However, the UAE-backed separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) has a rival agenda to Hadi’s government, which has refused to participate in any talks unless the southern forces reverse what it calls a coup.
The standoff has complicated efforts to end the ruinous war and has exposed differences between regional allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which in June scaled down its presence in Yemen while still backing thousands of southern separatist fighters.
STC chief Aidaroos al-Zubaidi arrived in the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah late on Tuesday for the talks, the STC said.
Hadi’s government asked Abu Dhabi, which has called for dialogue, to stop funding and arming separatist forces.
“If it were not for the full support provided by the United Arab Emirates … this rebellion would not have happened. This scheme of fragmentation continues and is escalating despite calls for de-escalation led by Saudi Arabia,” said a government letter to the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday.
The UAE responded by reaffirming its commitment to the coalition and criticising the “weak performance” and “ineffectiveness” of Hadi’s government and its inability to engage in constructive dialogue with other Yemeni parties.
“It is not appropriate for the Yemeni government to hang its political and administrative failure on the UAE,” Abu Dhabi’s deputy permanent U.N. representative said in New York. His remarks were carried on state news agency WAM on Wednesday.
The STC said it would hold Aden until elements of the Islamist Islah, which the UAE regards as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and northerners are removed from power positions in the south. It also wants a say in Yemen’s future.
Yemeni sources have said the delayed summit could discuss reshuffling Hadi’s government to include the STC, which seeks self-rule in the south and blames Islah, a key Hadi ally, of being complicit in a Houthi assault on southern forces earlier this month. The Islah party denies the charge.
The Houthis point to Aden as proof that Hadi is unfit to rule. The group, which holds Sanaa and most big urban centres, has recently stepped up attacks on Saudi cities.
The conflict, which has killed tens of thousands and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine, is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
(Reporting by Reuters team in Yemen and Maher Chmaytelli in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Gareth Jones)