Yemen Gov't Forces Rout Separatists

Yemen Gov't Forces Rout Separatists

SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Forces loyal to Yemen's internationally recognized government have taken full control of a key southern city after overnight clashes with separatists, Yemeni security officials said Friday.

Clashes over Ataq, the capital of oil-rich Shabwa province erupted late Thursday night and lasted until Friday morning, said the security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because there were not authorized to talk to the media.

The city of Ataq was previously divided between Saudi-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi's government forces and a separatist militia, trained and armed by the United Arab Emirates.

The infighting between Hadi's forces and the UAE-backed separatists — ostensibly allies in Yemen's war against the Shiite Houthi rebels — erupted earlier this month. It has threatened to fracture the Saudi-led coalition, a group of Arab states that intervened in Yemen's civil war in 2015, to help restore Hadi's government to power. The previous year, the rebel Houthis overran the capital, Sanaa, and gained control of much of the country's north.

Separatist militiamen of the so-called Southern Transitional Council, have so far seized strategic southern areas, including the city of Aden and much of the nearby Abyan province.

A Saudi-Emirati commission flew to southern Yemen last week to negotiate a truce between the government forces and separatists but has so far made no progress.

In a tweet posted early Friday, Hani Ben Braik, a separatist leader, would not admit defeat at Ataq but said his militiamen chose not to pursue a battle in the city out of "respect" for the truce efforts. However, Ben Baraik warned his forces would fight back if they were attacked again.

Though a key member of the coalition, the UAE never threw its full support behind Hadi because of his ties to Yemen's Muslim Brotherhood group, a pan-Arab movement that many Arab countries, including the UAE, consider a terrorist organization.

Hadi's government released a statement on Tuesday saying the UAE was responsible for the "armed rebellion" in the south and urged the Emiratis to stop providing funds and military support to the separatists.