April 28 (UPI) — A declaration of self-rule by a separatist group in Yemen has caused military and diplomatic leaders to call for calm, fearing the move may reignite violence between the Southern Transitional Council and the internationally recognized Yemeni government.
The Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen, diplomats and the United Nations on Monday called on the STC to refrain from escalating tensions in the already war-torn country, urging it to adhere to a power-sharing agreement it signed with the government of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in November.
“The coalition demands an end to any escalatory actions and calls for return to the agreement by participating parities, stressing the immediate need for implementation without delay and the need to prioritize the Yemeni peoples’ interests above all else,” the coalition said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
The STC move runs counter to the Riyadh Agreement to share control of the country signed between the separatists and the Hadi government and supported by the United Arab Emirates. The agreement followed the separatists capturing the interim capital of Aden in August from government-loyal forces following days of fighting.
The STC, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates, and the military coalition have fought on the same side against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. However, while the coalition seeks to reinstate Hadi, the STC wants independence for southern Yemen.
On Saturday, the STC declare self-rule over the strategically important port city of Aden and other southern governorates it controls, accusing the Saudi-backed government of Yemen of failing to live up to its end of the Riyadh Agreement and of facilitating corruption that threatens its so-called revolution.
Martin Griffiths, U.N. special envoy for Yemen, called the move by the STC “disappointing” and urged both sides to live up to their end of the November agreement.
“Now, more than ever, all political actors must cooperate in good faith, refrain from taking escalatory actions, and put the interests of Yemenis first. The Riyadh Agreement provides for the participation of the STC in consultations on the final political solution to end the conflict in Yemen and serving the interests of Yemenis nationwide,” he said in a statement.
In Britain, James Cleverly, the minister of the Middle East and North Africa, said he was “deeply concerned” about the move fearing it may prolong the conflict and derail efforts to establish a unified Yemeni government.
“The STC and the government of Yemen must immediately and fully implement the Riyadh Agreement,” he said in a statement. “This is the only way to deliver the peace and stability that southern Yemen so desperately needs.”
The Yemeni government has also called on the international community to condemn the STC’s “coup d’etat,” stating it has adhered to all of its obligations in the Riyadh Agreement while the separatists have kept “sidestepping” their end of the deal until finally declaring self-rule.
“These militias represent only themselves, not the people of the south who exemplified the national unity by their courageous stances,” Yemen Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
The UAE has also rejected the move, with Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Garash stating via Twitter that frustration over delays implementing the Riyadh Agreement does not warrant unilateral upheaval of the situation.
Tensions escalate between the two sides as the country combats the coronavirus pandemic and the south deals with catastrophic flooding.
Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, said more than 100,000 people across the country have been affected by torrential rains and flooding since mid-April with Aden being one of the hardest-hit areas.
At least seven people, including four children, have died, she said in a statement.
“Truly, none of us know how much more suffering the people of Yemen can take,” Grande said. “The solution is clear. The parties to the conflict need to find the courage to stop fighting and start negotiating. This is the only way this never-ending tragedy will finally stop.”