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Yemen government signs power-sharing deal with separatists

Yemen’s deputy prime minister Ahmed Saeed al-Khanbashi (R) and the Southern Transitional Council representative Nasser al-Khabji shake hands during the signing ceremony.
Yemen’s deputy prime minister Ahmed Saeed al-Khanbashi (R) and the Southern Transitional Council representative Nasser al-Khabji shake hands during the signing ceremony. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Yemen’s UN-recognised government has signed a Saudi Arabian-brokered power sharing agreement with separatists in the south of the countryafter months of fighting in the area.

The deal aims to create a new, cohesive government capable of challenging the Iranian-backed Houthi forces that control the capital, Sana’a, and the north.

The clashes between separatists and government forces – who for years fought on the same side against the Houthis – had raised fears that the country could break apart entirely. It also exposed a rift between normal Gulf allies, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

In August, the separatists took control of Aden, which has served as the beleaguered government’s base since it was ousted from Sana’a by Houthi rebels in 2014.

The agreement, formally sealed at a signing ceremonyin Riyadh on Tuesday, is short on specifics but is expected to share out ministries equally between the UN-backed government led by Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the backers of the president of the Southern Transitional Council, Aidarus al-Zoubaidi.

Speaking at the signing ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman described the deal as “a joyful day in Saudi as the two sides come together”.

Donald Trump, who rarely comments on the civil war in Yemen, hailed the agreement as “a very good start”, adding “please all work hard to get a final deal”.

Elements of the deal include the return of the UN-backed government to Aden within seven days to reactivate state institutions. The separatists also agreed to disband their militias, which would be integrated into Hadi’s forces within three months.

The STC will have a right to be represented fully in any talks on the future of Yemen overseen by the UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths.

Griffiths said the agreement was “an important step for our collective efforts to advance a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Yemen. Listening to southern stakeholders is important to the political efforts to achieve peace in the country.”

Griffiths had been anxious to avoid excluding the southern forces, since any agreement reached without their inclusion was likely to fall apart. But observers will be anxious to see if the alliance, assuming it holds, simply leads to a reinvigorated militarily assault on Houthi positions, or instead leads to substantive talks on Yemen’s future.

In a sign of the tensions over the agreement, an assassination attempt was made last week on Yemen’s ministers of interior and transport in the southern province of Shabwah, just hours after an initial deal between the two sides was agreed.

In recent weeks, Saudi Arabia has increased its military presence in southern Yemen, airlifting in additional troops, armoured vehicles, tanks and other military equipment. And since July, the UAE has been pulling troops out of Yemen, leaving the coalition with a weakened ground presence and fewer tactical options.

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