The separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) in Yemen announced on August 26, Wednesday, its decision to withdraw from the power-sharing and peace talks with the Saudi and western-backed government of president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The STC claimed that pulling out of the talks was based on the “irresponsible behavior by parties” with respect to the Riyadh agreement, a power-sharing deal between the two factions. Soon after the STC announcement, fighting broke out between the government and the STC forces in southern Yemen.
In a statement to reporters, STC acknowledged that it had sent a letter to the Saudi authorities confirming “the suspension of its participation in the ongoing consultations to implement the agreement.” It cited several reasons for its decision to exit the deal, including the steady decline of public services in southern Yemen, as well as the recent military escalations by the government forces in Abyan province.
As per the STC, the recent mobilization of government forces in the southern region has undermined trust in the Riyadh agreement. The group also claims that Hadi has also defaulted on the civil aspects of the agreement by failing to pay salaries of the public servants in the southern areas. The gradual decline in the currency value under the government, coupled with the rising prices of goods and services, led to massive impoverishment. Under such circumstances, no financial assistance has been provided to the southern governorates, the STC alleges.
Wednesday’s developments were a significant blow to the Saudi hopes of uniting the Hadi government and the STC in order to fight the rebel Shia Houthis, who oppose the Hadi regime. Some progress had been made in this direction after Saudi Arabia facilitated the Riyadh agreement between the two formerly warring parties in July this year. The agreement called for the formation of a new united Yemeni government, along with fresh appointments to the posts of prime minister, governor and security director for the strategically important port city of Aden, within 30 days. The STC agreed to stop its actions for establishing self-rule in an independent, autonomous Southern Yemen.
The STC had declared self-rule in much of southern Yemen in April this year, including in Aden where it managed to expel the Hadi government from its temporary base. The fighting between the two sides threatened to plunge Yemen into a deeper crisis. Due to the ongoing conflict with the Houthi rebels, the situation became akin to a civil war within a civil war.
Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world, in large part due to the constant war and conflict. The fighting between the Houthis and the Hadi government, and the brutal intervention by the Saudi-led coalition to back Hadi, has devastated the country. The coalition’s incessant bombing and drone strikes created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. The COVID-19 pandemic and the recent heavy rains and flooding, which killed hundreds of people and rendered thousands homeless, have aggravated the crisis.
The war in Yemen between the Houthis and the government of president Hadi started in 2014 and was followed by military intervention by the Saudi-led coalition in March 2015. More than 112,000 Yemenis, most of them civilians, have died in the war so far. Millions have been internally displaced and are dependent on international humanitarian assistance for daily survival. The fighting has left the civilian and health infrastructure in the country severely damaged. This has resulted in the spreading of deadly diseases like cholera, causing hundreds of needless more deaths. The United Nations has called Yemen “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis” and warned that without a quick resolution to the conflict, millions more will die in the violence or from starvation, disease and lack of proper medical care.