Yemen’s Government Signs Peace Deal With Southern Rebels

The agreement aims to mend a rift between the Saudi-backed government and Emirati-backed rebels so they can focus on fighting the Iran-backed Houthis.

Yemen’s Saudi-backed government signed an agreement with southern separatists on Tuesday to end a power struggle in southern Yemen.

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, hailed the agreement as a step toward a wider political solution to end the multifaceted conflict.

The standoff had opened a new front in the four-year war and fractured a Saudi-led coalition that has been battling the Houthi movement in northern Yemen. The Iran-backed Houthis ousted the Saudi-backed government from the capital, Sana, in late 2014.

Saudi Arabia’s envoy to Yemen told reporters that the agreement would allow the separatists and other southerners to join a new Yemeni cabinet and would place southern armed forces under the control of the Yemeni government.

“This agreement will open, God willing, broader talks between Yemeni parties to reach a political solution and end the war,” Prince Mohammed said in a televised signing ceremony in Riyadh.

President Trump praised the agreement on Twitter. “A very good start!” he said. “Please all work hard to get a final deal.”

Saudi Arabia has been trying to resolve the standoff in southern Yemen to refocus the coalition’s attention on fighting the Houthis in the north.

The separatist forces, supported by Riyadh’s main coalition partner, the United Arab Emirates, are part of the Sunni Muslim alliance that intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Houthis, who hold Sana and most big urban centers.

But the main separatist political organization, the Southern Transitional Council, turned against the Saudi-backed government in August, seizing its interim seat in the southern port of Aden and trying to extend its reach in the south. The council advocates self-rule in the south and a say in Yemen’s future.

The deal calls for the formation of a new cabinet within 30 days that would have equal representation for northerners and southerners. The Southern Transitional Council would also join any political talks to end the war.

To pave the way for the deal, Emirati forces left Aden last month, handing control of the port city and other southern areas to Saudi Arabia.

The United Nations envoy Martin Griffiths, who is trying to restart talks to end a war that has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine, said the deal was an important step in peace efforts.

“Listening to southern stakeholders is important to the political efforts to achieve peace in the country,” he said in a tweet.

The ceremony was attended by the Emirates’ de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi; the Yemeni president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi; and the Southern Transitional Council leader, Aidarous al-Zubaidi.

The Aden crisis exposed a rift between Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, which started reducing its presence in Yemen in June as Western allies, including some that provide the coalition with arms and intelligence, pressed for an end to a war that has killed tens of thousands.

April Longley of the International Crisis Group said the agreement could be positive but it was too early to tell.

“In a best-case scenario, it will put the lid on violence and open the way to more inclusive Yemeni negotiations in which southern separatists, who are an important component on the ground, are also present,” she said.