Separatists clash with presidential guards in southern Yemen

By AHMED AL-HAJ AND SAMY MAGDY | Associated Press | Published: August 7, 2019

SANAA, Yemen — Yemeni separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates clashed Wednesday with forces loyal to the internationally backed government around the presidential palace in the southern city of Aden, security officials and witnesses said.

The UAE is a key member of a Saudi-led coalition that has been battling rebels in northern Yemen, known as Houthis, since March 2015 on behalf of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government.

But despite having a common enemy, relations between Hadi and the UAE have been tense over allegations the Emiratis have offered patronage to southern Yemeni politicians campaigning for secession, as well as what the president perceives as UAE violations of his country’s sovereignty.

Wednesday’s clashes came amid calls by ex-Cabinet minister Hani Bin Braik, who serves as deputy head of the so-called Southern Transitional Council, to “topple down” Hadi’s government.

The council, led by Aidarous al-Zubaidi, a former Aden governor, was formed after thousands of pro-secessionist Yemenis rallied behind him during the past two years, but was seen by Hadi’s government as an act that “targets the country’s interests, its future and social fabric.”

Officials and witnesses said the clashes wounded at least two civilians and Hadi’s prime minister and several Cabinet members and high-ranking officials have left the presidential palace in the past two days to other areas in the city.

A video circulated online apparently showed presidential guards protecting the palace.

“The presidential palace is OK. All matters are OK. Nobody got past the gate. They did not advance,” an armed man said in the video.

A top government official described Braik’s calls as an attempted coup, backed by the UAE.

“This is a coup by armed militias, clearly backed by the Emiratis. This is not different from the Houthi coup in Sanaa,” he said. He referred the Houthi takeover the capital, Sanaa in 2013 ushering the civil war.

The officials demanded anonymity because they weren’t authorized to brief the media, while the witnesses who commented feared reprisal.

The clashes come a week after a Houthi missile attack killed a top UAE-backed militia commander, whose supporters were rallying in Aden to bury his body.

Last week, the Houthis said they fired a ballistic missile at a military parade of the same UAE-trained militia known as the Security Belt, killing at least 40 troops.

The clashes also came several weeks after the UAE said it has begun to draw down its forces, pulling out several thousand troops from Yemen, signaling a major shift in the war.

The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of Sanaa by the Houthis, who drove out the internationally recognized government. In March 2015, the coalition launched its air campaign to prevent the rebels from overrunning the south.

Saudi-led airstrikes have hit schools, hospitals and weddings, killing thousands of Yemeni civilians. The Houthis have used drones and missiles to attack neighboring Saudi Arabia and have also targeted vessels in the Red Sea.

Iran repeatedly has denied supplying the Houthis with drone or missile technology, both of which the rebels have used increasingly, including to target Saudi Arabia. The kingdom has claimed that Iran supplied the missiles or at least helped the Houthis manufacture them from parts that were in Yemen before the war.

Magdy reported from Cairo.

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