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Yemen government, separatists to form cabinet within week: Saudi officials

Riyadh Agreement which was struck late last year was designed to mend a rift between the Southern Transitional Council (STC) and the government, both technically allies in the war against Houthi rebels.

AFP , Thursday 10 Dec 2020
Fighter loyal to Yemen
File Photo: A fighter loyal to Yemen's Southern Transitional Council (STC) stands on guard while deployed at Aden International Airport, August 27, 2020. (AFP)
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Yemen's internationally recognised government and southern separatists will form a cabinet within a week, Saudi officials said Thursday, kicking off the implementation of a Riyadh-sponsored power sharing agreement after a series of delays.

The so-called Riyadh Agreement which was struck late last year was designed to mend a rift between the secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC) and the government, both technically allies in the war against Houthi rebels who have seized much of Yemen's north.

But the deal has repeatedly stalled, further complicating the long and wider conflict between a Saudi-led military coalition backing the government and the Iran-backed Houthis who control the capital Sanaa.

"Consensus has been reached on the formation of the Yemeni government, comprised of 24 ministers, including ministers from the Southern Transitional Council and political components in Yemen," the official Saudi Press Agency quoted a coalition source as saying.

The cabinet would be announced immediately after a military reorganisation is completed "within a week", the source said.

The reorganisation would see armed forces from both sides separated and withdrawn from the southern port city of Aden and the flashpoint province of Abyan, the source added.

Coalition military observers began supervising the redeployment process on Thursday, with pro-government sources reporting "limited clashes" in Abyan between both parties.

A Saudi official said the troop redeployment was expected to take between four and seven days, and a Saudi diplomatic team along with coalition observers were supervising the process in Aden and Abyan.

"Until this hour, all sides appear willing to implement" the Riyadh Agreement, the official told AFP.

"After the military stage, we need the cabinet to start functioning quickly -- to restart institutions, improve the economic situation, to work for the Yemeni people."

 'War Within A War' 

The Arab world's poorest country is devastated by conflict, coronavirus and malnutrition, which the UN warned last week has reached record levels, narrowing the window of opportunity to prevent a famine.

If the truce holds, Thursday's breakthrough should allow the Saudi-led coalition and its allies to refocus their energies on the war against their common foe -- the Houthi rebels.

In recent months, the rebels have stepped up attacks on neighbouring Saudi Arabia -- including its critical oil infrastructure -- in retaliation for the Riyadh-led military campaign in Yemen.

Yemen's separatists, who have long agitated for independence in the south, had signed the power-sharing deal in Riyadh last November following deadly clashes in the preceding months.

It sought to quell the "war within a civil war" and was hailed as a possible stepping stone towards ending the wider conflict.

But the Riyadh pact quickly became defunct, failing to meet deadlines for key measures including forming a new cabinet with equal representation for southerners.

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.

Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in Yemen's long conflict which has triggered what the United Nations has called the world's worst humanitarian disaster.

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