Yemen’s president has called on southern separatists to “stop the bloodshed” and abide by a power-sharing agreement in his first public comments since the secessionists declared autonomy in April.
The conflict between the Southern Transitional Council (STC) and the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi constitutes a second front in Yemen, already split by a war between government loyalists and Houthi rebels.
The STC, which declared self-rule on April 26, has made a series of military gains, the latest this month when it seized the strategic Indian Ocean island of Socotra.
“I call on the so-called Southern Transitional Council … to return to the path of the Riyadh Agreement and stop the bloodshed,” Hadi said during a meeting on Saturday with high-level government officials, referring to a power-sharing deal for the south struck last November that quickly became defunct.
The Riyadh accord
The Riyadh accord’s implementation “has long faltered due to continuous escalatory activities, including the announcement of self-rule and the rebellion witnessed in Socotra”, Hadi said, who has been living in the Saudi capital following the takeover of Sanaa and large parts of Yemen by the Houthis in 2014.
“Resorting to arms and force for personal gains … will not be accepted,” he added.
The agreement, which was signed in May 2019, includes the unification of all military formations under the authority of the ministries of interior and defence, as well as the formation of an efficient government made up equally between the north and south of Yemen.
Located off the southern coast of Aden, the interim seat of the Yemeni government, Socotra is near strategic shipping lanes and is famed for its biodiversity.
Tensions have escalated over the last several months since the separatists declared self-rule in Aden and other southern provinces.
‘War within a war’
This prompted Yemen’s government in May to launch a military offensive in Abyan aimed at ousting the separatists from Aden.
The southern separatists and the Yemeni government are technically allies in the fight against the Houthis, but the rift between them represents a damaging “war within a war” in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country.
Earlier this week, a Saudi-led military coalition backing the government against the Houthis said it had deployed observers to monitor a ceasefire between pro-government troops and southern separatists announced two days earlier.
Saudi forces arrived on Wednesday in Shaqra and Sheikh Salem, two flashpoints in southern Yemen’s Abyan province, to monitor that truce, military sources said.
A collapse of the ceasefire in the south would again complicate efforts by the government to repel the Houthis, who are believed to be aligned with Saudi’s regional foe Iran.
The separatists and the government are due to hold further talks in Saudi Arabia to discuss the truce, coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki said this week.
Since the Saudi-led coalition launched a military offensive in 2015, tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in Yemen, in what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.
Al Jazeera and news agencies