Yemen Gov't, Separatists Reach Deal

Yemen Gov't, Separatists Reach Deal

CAIRO (AP) -- Yemen's internationally-recognized government and southern separatists have reached an initial agreement to end their infighting in the country's south, Yemeni officials said Friday.

The two — forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and separatists known as the Southern Transitional Council — are ostensible allies in the Saudi-led coalition's war against Yemen's Shiite Houthi rebels.

The Houthis in 2014 overran major parts of northern Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa, pushing out Yemen's internationally recognized government and ushering in the civil war that has killed tens of thousands of people. Hadi later fled first to the southern port city of Aden and then to Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi-led coalition intervened in the conflict in 2015 and has since waged war against the Houthis in an effort to restore Hadi's government to power. The fighting in the Arab world's poorest country has also left millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushed the country to the brink of famine.

In August, heavy infighting broke out between Hadi's forces and the southern separatists, backed by the United Arab Emirates, a partner in the Saudi-led coalition. The separatists overran Aden, the temporary seat of Hadi's government and key southern provinces.

That infighting has raised fears of further weakening of the anti-Houthi bloc and undermining chances for finding a negotiated solution to the civil war.

According to two Yemeni officials, the tentative deal between the separatists and the government envisages the formation of a new Cabinet with equal representation of northern and southern politicians, excluding the Houthis.

The two officials told The Associated Press that the agreement also allows for Hadi's return to Aden. The separatists have agreed to disband their militias, which would be integrated in Hadi's police force, the officials added, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

The agreement further dictates that both sides pull out their forces from Aden, leaving only a unit of Hadi's presidential guard there, they said.

There was no immediate comment from Saudi Arabia on the tentative deal. Earlier this week, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir told France's Libération newspaper the kingdom was close to a negotiated deal between Hadi and the separatists,

The pan-Arab Saudi-funded daily al-Sharq al-Awsat on Friday published some of the details of the tentative agreement on its front page, quoting a senior Saudi official. The Saudis have been mediating talks between Hadi's side and the separatists, hoping to stabilize southern Yemen and prevent further cracks in its anti-Houthi coalition.

The kingdom has been increasing its military presence in the south, airlifting in additional troops, armored vehicles, tanks and other military equipment. On Thursday, Yemeni officials told the AP that 15 Saudi military transport aircraft landed in Aden, while additional Saudi troops arrived by land in two other key Yemeni provinces, Shabwa and Hadramawt.

(KR)