Conflict in Aden: The unity of Yemen in peril

Ahmed Eleiba , Sunday 4 Feb 2018

An outbreak of hostilities in Aden has spurred calls for the internationally recognised government to relocate, which could be prelude to temporary or permanent southern secession

Yemeni southern separatist
File Photo: Yemeni supporters of the southern separatist movement stand next to a tank bearing the movement's flag which they confiscated from a military depot, in the southern Yemeni city of Aden on March 27, 2015 (AFP)

The climate in the southern Yemen city of Aden remains fraught in the wake of armed clashes that broke out over the weekend between “Security Belt” forces affiliated with the “secessionist” Southern Transitional Council and the forces affiliated with the internationally recognised government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

At least 15 people had died and more than 100 had been injured in the fighting by Sunday night. In spite of appeals for calm issued by the Arab coalition, hostilities erupted again at dawn Monday, leaving nine more dead on both sides.

The Southern Movement had issued an ultimatum calling for the dismissal of Prime Minister Ahmed bin Daghr — President Hadi’s representative in Aden, which the internationally recognised government is using as its temporary capital until the liberation of Sanaa — on the grounds that his government is corrupt and incompetent. The fighting erupted when the ultimatum expired and, according to Yemeni sources contacted by Al-Ahram Weekly, tensions in Aden are likely to escalate again.

Individuals affiliated with the Bin Daghr government have accused the UAE, the Southern Movement’s main backer and arms provider, of supporting the “Security Belt” forces’ escalation. On the other hand, some Yemeni observers attribute the situation in Aden to discord in the ranks of the Saudi-led Arab coalition, a view also promoted by the Ansar Allah (Houthi) Movement that controls the Yemeni capital Sanaa. Arab coalition officials deny the existence of internal disputes.

On Friday, the coalition issued a statement appealing to all sides to exercise self-restraint, to remain committed to the spirit of dialogue, and to avoid all inducements to strife. It stressed how “important it is that Yemenis of all outlooks and affiliations sense their national duty to orient their joint efforts with the Coalition to Support Legitimacy towards the completion of the liberation of all Yemeni territories”.

The statement also urged Yemenis “to work together to defeat the Houthis and put an end to their control over the resources and lives of the Yemeni people” and “not to give the opening to those lying in wait for opportunities to drive a wedge between Yemeni ranks or to divert the Yemenis from their main battle.”

Statements by UAE officials harmonised with the substance of that statement. UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Qarqash said that there can be no tolerance for those who strive to sow dissension, calling on the Yemeni people to direct their joint efforts with the Coalition to Support Legitimacy in order to complete the liberation of all Yemeni territories. He also urged Yemenis to avoid discord, division and attempts to undermine the institutions of the state.

The Yemeni government welcomed what it described as the coalition’s “determination to promote the stability of Yemen”.

Bin Daghr, the main object of the southern forces’ ire, claimed that developments in Aden “serve the objectives of the Iranians and the Houthis” and lashed out against what he described as “a coup against legitimacy and the federal state project.” He warned against the attempts to “tear Yemen apart”, hinting at the existence of a conspiracy to partition Yemen.

He added: “The efforts and blood the Arabs have spent in Yemen must not be sacrificed to the collapse of unity and the partition of Yemen. This would be a crime no less horrible than the crime committed by the Houthis in Sanaa.”

The former president of South Yemen, Ali Nasir Mohamed Husani, urged southern forces to resume dialogue and not to become “promoters of these wars”. Nasir, who remains a widely revered political figure, held that the ouster of the Bin Daghr government would not solve the problems of the nation and the Yemeni people. Nor would any new government be able to resolve the crisis in the absence of a comprehensive solution for Yemen, both north and south.

He called for the creation of a new leadership and a national unity government and called on all armed factions to lay down their weapons and surrender them to the Ministry of Defense of the national unity government so as to pave the way for the establishment of a bi-regional federal state for a specified period of time, during which the people of the south would be able to exercise their right to self-determination.

UN Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed also contributed to attempts to restore calm in the south. The UN was always prepared to help resolve disputes at this difficult time for Yemen, he said.

Speaking to the Weekly by phone from Aden, Yemeni political analyst Abdel-Hakim Mahmoud said that the situation remains tense in some districts of the southern capital, such as Crater, Dar Saad, Sheikh Othman, and in Al-Arish to the east, and all along the coastal road leading to the northern entrance of Crater, where the prime minister’s headquarters are located. He added that heavy weapons are being used in the fighting and that the Presidential Guard force has been struggling to secure full control over the Aden.

On the “Security Belt” forces, Mahmoud said: “The objective of that force is to compel the government to relocate from Aden to another part of the country. It could be Marib. It is rumoured that the UAE supports this outlook.”

According to this analyst, there is considerable grassroots support for this move as well. “About 70 per cent of the people believe that this is a step towards secession because of the injustices that have accumulated over the decades. I personally am in favour of secession from the north because we in the south have paid a bitter price for unity. But this is not the way to achieve that. I believe that we need a temporary government in Aden that works for the benefit of the people, especially in matters related to the Central Bank and the payment of government employee salaries.”

As to what lies ahead for Aden in the immediate future, Abdel-Hakim Mahmoud feels that it is difficult to predict how the situation will play out because of the rapidly fluctuating circumstances there.

According to other local reports from Aden, the renewed outbreak of clashes occurred after armed groups that support the Southern Transitional Council were called in from the governorates of Shabwah to the east and Dalie to the north of Aden. Some of them had reached the outskirts of Dar Saad district, Aden’s northern gateway, where the fourth regiment of the Presidential Guards is deployed. Others, coming from Shabwah, reportedly clashed with Presidential Guard units in the vicinity of Dufas in Abyan, a governorate to the east of Aden

*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly 

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