Yemen separatist chief warns against collapse of power-sharing deal



A member of Yemen's southern separatist-dominated Security Belt Forces stands guard during a meeting of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) in the city of Aden, on January 13th. [Saleh al-Obeidi/AFP]

The leader of Yemen's southern separatists has warned against the looming collapse of a power-sharing deal, saying the region is menaced by the twin threats of economic catastrophe and extremist attacks.

The agreement to resolve a battle for control in the south, which was signed in Riyadh last November, was hailed as a step towards ending the wider conflict in Yemen that pits the government against the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah).

However, analysts have said it is effectively defunct, having failed to meet deadlines for key measures including the formation of a new cabinet with equal representation for southerners, and the reorganisation of military forces.

In an interview with AFP, Aidarous al-Zoubeidi, who heads the Southern Transitional Council (STC), said he was committed to the deal "under the leadership of Saudi Arabia" which leads a military coalition against the Houthis.

Al-Zoubeidi said the agreement united the south against the Houthis and recognised the STC as a legitimate party.

'People are suffering'

In August, deadly clashes broke out between the government and STC forces who seized control of Aden, ousting unionist forces who had set up base there when President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi fled Sanaa in February 2015.

While the government and the STC are technically allies in the long war against the Houthis, the secessionists believe the south should be an independent state -- as it was before unification in 1990.

However, al-Zoubeidi said they were willing to set aside that goal as the allies focused on the fight against the Houthis.

"We do not aspire during this phase for independence, we aspire for partnership... and the right to choose our own fate through democracy," he said.

The troubled rollout of the deal comes amid what al-Zoubeidi said was a dire situation in the south of Yemen.

"There is a shortage of food products, the warehouses are empty in the south and there are only reserves to cover the needs of the people for the next 10 days," he said.

"People are also suffering from not getting their salaries," he said.

Al-Zoubeidi said that Yemen's currency was sharply depreciating, and that it was possible that in the next few months the riyal would be abandoned in favour of the Saudi or US currencies "because it will have no value".

The Riyadh Agreement set a timetable for the government's return to Aden, the appointment of a new head of security and a governor of the city, and the formation of a new 24-member cabinet with equal representation for southerners.

Yemen's Prime Minister Moeen Abdulmalik returned to the city in December but the two sides have failed to meet the other deadlines.

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