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Yemen power sharing agreement hailed by world leaders as step in the right direction

The agreement signed between the Yemeni government and southern separatists has been described and seen by observers as an end to the power struggle and a new chapter in Yemen's history

Sherry El Gergawi , Thursday 7 Nov 2019
Yemeni Southern Transitional Council member and former Aden Governor Nasser al-Khabji, left, and Yemen’s deputy Prime Minister Salem al-Khanbashi greet each other before signing a power-sharing deal in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday (photo: AP)

The internationally recognised Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) have officially signed a power sharing agreement that was unveiled on Tuesday.

The agreement was signed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with the attendance of the UAE’s Abu Dhabi crown prince, the Yemeni president and other Arab and Western officials and ambassadors.

Riyadh has an "open channel" with Yemen's Iran-backed rebels with the goal of ending the country's civil war, a Saudi official told Reuters on Wednesday, weeks after the rebels offered to halt attacks on the kingdom.

They have already agreed that the STC would join a new cabinet and tens of thousands of UAE-backed southern forces would be placed under government control.

Riyadh agreement also calls for:

- Forming a new cabinet of no more than 24 ministers within 30 days, with 50 percent of portfolios held by the STC and other southern movements.

- The STC is expected to get two portfolios, but Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadiwould keep key departments including the interior and defence ministries, a Yemeni official said.

- Including the STC in political negotiations to end the war.

- Placing all military forces under the defence ministry and security forces under the interior ministry.

- Forces deployed to the south since August return to previous positions within 15 days. Medium and heavy weapons in Aden are handed over under coalition supervision.

- Government and STC military forces leave Aden province within 30 days, while security inside the city will be overseen by Saudi Arabia's military.

The deal has been hailed as Yemen's best chance so far to end the four-year conflict, which has pushed much of the population to the brink of famine. However, the agreement appears to be hanging by a thread, with breaches reported by both sides.

The Saudi crown prince expressed in a televised speech his appreciation for the efforts exerted to reach the agreement, which he described as “a step toward a political solution to end the war in Yemen.”

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted about the deal: “A very good start! Please all work hard to get a final deal.”

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said the Riyadh agreement on ending a power struggle in the south of Yemen is “a great step towards resolving the Yemeni crisis.”

“I have followed with great pleasure the signing of the deal between the Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) under the generous auspices of King Salman and attendance of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed,” El-Sisi said on Twitter.

El-Sisi said the deal strengthens the unity of Yemen and consolidates stability and peace in the region.

Earlier, Egypt’s foreign ministry hailed the agreement, describing it as an important step towards a comprehensive political resolution to the nearly five-year war.

The ministry also said that the deal aims to achieve peace, security, and stability in Yemen while guaranteeing its unity and territorial integrity and the alleviation of the suffering of the Yemeni people.

UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths expressed thanks to Saudi Arabia for its diplomatic efforts that led to the Riyadh Agreement, which he described in an online statement as “an important step for our collective efforts to advance a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Yemen."

“I hope that this agreement will strengthen stability in Aden and the surrounding governorates and improve the lives of the citizens,” he said, adding that “listening to southern stakeholders is important to the political efforts to achieve peace in the country.”

The UAE’s Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan posted on Twitter, "I appreciate the great efforts made by Saudi Arabia in unifying the Yemeni people and its pivotal role in bringing about the Riyadh agreement."

According to Kuwait’s news agency (KUNA), Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Jarallah also welcomed the Riyadh agreement, saying, "The accord lays firm foundations for the formation of a government that could be strong enough to lead the intra-Yemeni peace talks in the future."

Observers say the Riyadh agreement could pave the way for a wider peace deal.

"The deal prevents a collapse of the fragile alliance of Yemeni forces that Saudi Arabia has supported since intervening in Yemen in March 2015 to prevent Houthi rebels from taking over the country," Peter Salisbury, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, said in a report.

"The question now is whether the agreement can act as a bridge to a nationwide political settlement or if it simply marks a pause before another round of violence."

What does Riyadh agreement mean for the Saudi-led coalition?

Saudi Arabia now bears most of the burden in an unpopular war that it launched to prevent Shia Iran from using the Houthis to build influence along its southern borders.

Emirati forces withdrew from Aden last month, handing over control to Saudi troops. Hadi's government asked the UAE to stop supporting separatists. Abu Dhabi, which distrusts the Islah party, said Hadi's government was ineffective.

The UAE, which started pulling out of Yemen in June as Western allies pressed for an end to the war, said it would continue operations against militant groups like Al-Qaeda, which is among Yemen's many destabilising forces.

Is peace with the Houthis next?

"We have had an open channel with the Houthis since 2016. We are continuing these communications to support peace in Yemen," a senior Saudi official told Reuters reporters.

"We don't close our doors with the Houthis."

"If the Houthis (are) serious to deescalate and accept to come to the table, Saudi Arabia will support their demand and support all political parties to reach a political solution," the Saudi official said.

According to Reuters, there was no immediate comment from the Houthi rebels, who seized the capital Sanaa and much of northern Yemen in 2014, sparking the Saudi-led military intervention the following March.

However, the Southern National Salvation Council announced today in a statement reported by the Yemeni News Agency (Saba) its rejection of the "so-called Riyadh agreement" and any agreement that does not provide for the departure of foreign forces and preserves the independence and sovereign decision of Yemen.

The council confirmed that this agreement gives legitimacy to the foreign occupation to stay and gives it the right to manage local affairs in the country, and renewed its rejection of any agreements that do not derive legitimacy from the people through legitimate means such as elections, referendums or consensus of all national forces.

The statement said that this agreement makes access to power a reward for those who rely on the power of arms and derives its legitimacy from the support of countries abroad, pointing out that the agreement gives legitimacy to regional militias with foreign affiliations and considers them part of the national institutions of the state.

The formation of the Southern National Salvation Council (SNSC) was announced in early September in Yemen’s eastern province of Mahrah.

The SNSC brings together separate groups from Yemen’s southern governorates and opposes all foreign military presence in the south.

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