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New and old perils threaten Yemen’s territorial integrity

in MIDLE EAST by

On Sunday, in the southern Yemenite port city of Aden, forces loyal to the government of President Hadi exchanged fire with the Southern Transitional Council (STC), an armed and secessionist movement supported by the United Arab Emirates. Until today, both sides were fighting alongside the Saudi-led coalition against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, which are still in control of the capital Saana and of the northern part of the country. However, the cohabitation between the two forces has been precarious since the beginning and difficult to keep in place after almost three years of conflict. In a statement issued on Sunday, the prime minister, Ahmed bin Dagher, accused the STC of staging a “coup” directed towards the internationally recognised Yemenite government. Last week the separatist force has launched an ultimatum to Hadi’s government, blaming it for corruption and mismanagement in southern Yemen. However, announcements have been followed by actions and real confrontation in the city. The Sunday’s conflict in Aden has leave on the battlefield at least 21 dead and more than 130 wounded.  This new open source of confrontation could not only exacerbate the ongoing conflict in Yemen, leading to more destruction and loss of civilian lives but could also threaten the territorial integrity of the country. It is important to go back to the history to explain the ongoing growing secessionist sentiments in southern Yemen. Then, after turning to history, it is also useful to have a look to the current geopolitical situation in the region. Indeed, unification between North and South Yemen is not far, it dates to 1990. Thereafter tensions and secessionist movements have never been totally silenced. The city port of Aden was the only British colony in the entire Arabian Peninsula administered directly by the British government between 1839 and 1967. The British set up their own administrative, trade and educational institutions in the colony. The city was truly a cultural melting pot for many ethnic groups including people of Indian and Somali origins. After the withdrawal of British troops in 1967, Aden joined the rest of the British protectorates in the south to form the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, with the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) eventually taking power. Bloody conflict within the political movement favoured the unification of North and South Yemen in 1990. In Aden, the deterioration of economy and the sentiments of independence even challenged the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s tight grip to power. Less than four years after merging with the north, the south tried to split away in 1994 citing economic and political marginalisation, but it was crushed after a short-lived but bloody civil war. It was then created a mass peaceful pro-independence movement, the “Al-Hirak al-Janoubi” (the southern movement). Since the beginning of the conflict, government’s army and “separatists” fought side by side to defend the city of Aden from the Houthi’s incursions from the North of Yemen. However, since the Houthi’s failed attempts to take control of the city, Aden has witnessed severe security challenges, economic and basic infrastructure problems, and most recently growing support for secession from the North. In April 2017, forces loyal to President Hadi clashed with armed men supporting UAE-backed Aden Governor Aidarous al-Zubaidi at the city airport. Hadi responded to the incident by sacking the governor. Then, in May 2017, al-Zubaidi announced the establishment of the Souther Transitional Council which he claimed would represent “the will of the people of the South”. There are serious chances not only that this movement would undermine the integrity of Yemen’s territory, but also the course of the war against the Houthi placed in the North. The future military responses of president Hadi and its allies would definitely shape the southern question and future country’s alignment.

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