Deadly fighting involving southern breakaway group follows breakdown in power-sharing talks in August
Clashes between southern Yemeni separatists and pro-government forces in Yemen’s Abyan province killed 13 fighters, according to military sources.
The infighting late on Friday between the nominal allies in the civil war against the Houthi rebels killed at least eight men from the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), including two officers, and five from the Yemeni government’s side, military sources from both sides told AFP.
The STC withdrew from talks over a power-sharing deal with the Saudi-backed government of Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi in August.
It has been allied with the Saudi coalition against the Houthis, but it also wants secession of southern Yemen.
The relationship has shifted back and forth since August 2019, when the STC seized control of Aden, where the government had been operating from since the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, was taken by the Houthis at the beginning of the war in 2014.
A deal struck in Riyadh in November 2019 was designed to mend the rift between allies.
Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in Yemen’s conflict, which has triggered what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.
What is the Southern Transitional Council?
Formed in 2017, the Southern Transitional Council is a secessionist movement focused on gaining independence for South Yemen. Comprising of 26 members, the STC includes five governors from Southern Yemen and two former government ministers.
The STC emerged after Hadi fired Aden governor Aidarus al-Zoubaidi for alleged disloyalty in April 2017.
Hadi accused Zoubaidi of prioritising the Southern Yemen independence movement over a united Yemen. Following Zoubaidi’s sacking, mass rallies were held in Aden to protest Hadi’s move.
The STC was subsequently created a month later, with Hadi describing the council as illegitimate.
The call for independence has been a source of contention for over a century. South Yemen’s origins can be traced back to 1874 when the British Empire created the Aden colony and Aden protectorate.
Following its independence from Britain, South Yemen was formed in 1967 and later became the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in 1970, a Soviet Union-backed Marxist-Leninist state, the only one of its kind in the Middle East during the Cold War.
The Soviet Union’s collapse led South Yemen to merge with the North to form a unified Yemen. That union, however, lasted only four years and led to the 1994 civil war, when South Yemen army units accused northern president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forces of corruption.
In 2007, the Southern Movement, also known as the al-Hirak al-Janoubi, was formed. Its stated aims were to demand equality under the law and a change in relations between north and south in the context of a united Yemen.
The Hirak was met with repression by Saleh’s government. This set the foreground for the Southern independence movement to flourish during the Arab Spring after the Hirak began to champion Southern independence in 2009.
In 2016, the UAE helped create the SBF in southern Yemen. The SBF included many militants who supported a secessionist movement in Southern Yemen.
Forces within the SBF supported the STC, with the aim of establishing an independent South Yemen state. Since its formation, the SBF has played a crucial role in the Saudi-led coalition before the recent escalation.
Its successes came in part due to being militarily backed by the UAE. The backing included training of SBF fighters in Abu Dhabi and the supply of military equipment.
After receiving training, the SBF was dispatched to fight Houthi forces operating inside southern Yemen.
Emirati backing was crucial in helping the STC gain Aden, which has been under its control since 2018.