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Yemeni separatists stage coup in Aden, 45 killed

Updated August 11, 2019

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Aden: Supporters of the southern separatist movement pose for a picture on Saturday. — AFP
Aden: Supporters of the southern separatist movement pose for a picture on Saturday. — AFP

ADEN: At least 45 people, both combatants and civilians, were killed in clashes overnight at the Fourth Brigade camp in Aden. Another five civilians were killed in the surrounding Dar Saad neighbourhood.Military and security sources said southern separatists gained ground across Yemen’s second city Aden on Saturday and surrounded the presidential palace amid fierce battles with loyalist forces.

The deadly fighting reflects deep divisions between secessionists and forces backing the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, experts say.

The clashes have been raging since Wednesday, pitting unionist fighters against a force which is dominated by combatants seeking renewed independence for the south.

The force, known as the Security Belt, overran three military barracks belonging to unionist forces on Saturday and were surrounding the presidential palace, sources close to the force said. Fierce clashes were also taking place in several other parts of the city.

A correspondent reported seeing separatist fighters surrounding a tank which they claimed they had seized after overrunning a presidential guard base.

Southern Yemen was an independent state until 1990 and the north is widely perceived to have imposed unification by force.

The latest clashes “threaten to tip southern Yemen into a civil war within a civil war,” the International Crisis Group think tank warned.

“Such a conflict would deepen what is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and make a national political settlement harder to achieve,” it said.

Ties between the Security Belt and Hadi loyalists have been strained for years, and this week was not the first time they have engaged in armed clashes.

In January 2018, they fought three days of battles that killed 38 people and wounded 222 others after the government prevented a rally by separatists.

The Security Belt has accused Hadi’s backers of allowing Islamists into their ranks and of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

“In the past, half-measures helped de-escalate simmering tensions in the south,” Crisis Group said.

But “today’s circumstances require robust diplomatic intervention from the UN, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to avoid the worst and help forge a durable solution.” The Security Belt was trained by the United Arab Emirates, a key partner in a Saudi-led military coalition which intervened in Yemen in 2015 to back the government against Houthi rebels.

The Houthis had overrun large parts of northern and western Yemen, including the capital Sanaa, which they still control.

On Thursday, Hadi’s government urged Saudi Arabia and the UAE to put pressure on the Security Belt to avoid a military escalation in Aden.

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan expressed “deep concern” on Saturday over the violence in Aden and called for a “de-escalation”.

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2019