Yemen Separatists Deny Coalition Claims on Aden Pullout

(Bloomberg) — Yemen’s southern separatists denied claims by the Saudi-led coalition that they were withdrawing from areas captured from the internationally recognized government in the port city of Aden.

“There isn’t any withdrawal,” Nizar Haitham, spokesman of the Southern Transitional Council, said in a phone interview. “To whom would we hand over these posts? This should be discussed during the talks the coalition called for.”

The military alliance fighting the four-year war in Yemen said earlier that STC forces had begun withdrawing from some of the government-held areas captured the day earlier, according to U.A.E. and Saudi state-backed media. Haitham said STC forces had returned to the outer gates of the presidential palace and eyewitnesses and residents of the city said normalcy had returned to the streets with some shops reopening.

Saudi media reported that the coalition bombarded the separatists in Aden early on Sunday after the internationally recognized Yemeni government accused them and their backers in the United Arab Emirates of staging a coup against it. The STC issued a statement on its website accepting the ceasefire demanded by Saudi Arabia and agreeing to enter a dialogue.

The flareup in Aden marks the most significant setback for the coalition since it went to war in Yemen in 2015 to unseat Iran-backed Houthi rebels after they overran the capital Sana’a. Aden is the temporary seat of the internationally recognized government that has become a battleground between the regime, whose President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi resides in Saudi Arabia, and separatists backed by coalition-partner U.A.E.

“The southerners are ready for a political compromise away from the dominance or guardianship of the Muslim Brotherhood or the Houthis,” said Haitham.

Yemen’s Foreign Ministry accused the U.A.E. of helping the STC stage a coup in an unprecedented public rebuke of its ally. It demanded the U.A.E. withdraw its military support, according to a statement from Vice Minister Mohammed Al-Hadhrami, after STC forces said they seized the presidential palace in Aden.

The U.A.E., which is scaling back its troop presence in Yemen, did not publicly respond to the accusations. Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed on Saturday expressed “grave concern” about the developments, calling them a diversion from the war’s primary objective of fighting the Houthi rebels.

Saudi Arabia reiterated support for the “legitimate government,” Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman said Saturday in a series of tweets. “We reject any use of arms in Aden and breach of security and stability,” he said. The Saudis also invited the rebels to a meeting to resolve differences, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

(Updates to add STC denial of withdrawal reports.)

–With assistance from Nadeem Hamid and Abbas Al Lawati.

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