Yemen’s southern separatists on Friday criticized statements by their ally, the head of Yemen’s presidential council, in which he said now was not the right time to discuss southern independence.
Comments come as Saudi Arabiawhich leads a coalition fighting for an internationally recognized Yemeni government that includes separatists and their Houthi rebel rivals are negotiating behind the scenes for a wider war in the country.
The Southern Transitional Council, an umbrella group of heavily armed and well-funded militias backed by the United Arab Emirates, said in a statement that the comments “demonstrated a lack of seriousness.”
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The move came in response to an interview published on Thursday in the London newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, in which the head of the Yemeni Presidential Council, Rashid al-Alami, said “it might not be appropriate to talk about a decision at this time. .” in connection with the problem of southern separatism.
The council said in a statement that “the solution of the southern question cannot be rescheduled or postponed,” the statement said, adding that this would be a violation of previous agreements between the country’s internationally recognized government and the council.
Reports of renewed communications between Yemeni belligerents in the Gulf Arab nation of Oman, a traditional mediator in Middle Eastappeared earlier this year.
The separatists, represented by the Yemeni Southern Transitional Council, are an umbrella group of heavily armed and well-funded militias backed by the United Arab Emirates. Although the UAE is officially part of the Saudi-led coalition, its support for the separatists threatens the alliance. The separatists enjoy loyalty in much of southern Yemen and have repeatedly pushed for the division of Yemen into two countries, as was the case between 1967 and 1990.
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The war in Yemen began in 2014, when the Houthis broke out of their northern stronghold and captured the capital, Sana’a, along with much of the country’s north. In response, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia intervened in 2015 to try to bring back an internationally recognized government.
Al-Alami, a Saudi ally and currently on a diplomatic tour of Europe, became head of Yemen’s presidential council last April. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that while he supports Saudi Arabia acting as an Oman-brokered dialogue broker, any final peace deal must be between the internationally recognized government and the Houthi rebels.
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The war in Yemen has claimed more than 150,000 lives, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Events Project, including more than 15,000 civilians, and has become a proxy war in the region. He also spawned one of the world’s worst humanitarian crisesdriving the poorest nation in the Middle East to starvation.