UAE-backed secessionists expand assault on Saudi-backed government to Abyan
The UAE-based Southern Transitional Council [STC] forces announced an offensive in the neighbouring province on Monday, triggering fierce clashes with government forces.
The separatists seized control of police headquarters and special security headquarters in Zinjibar, after demanding forces withdraw from the buildings and declaring they would not back down.
“What is happening in Abyan is an unjustified escalation by the Southern Transitional Council (STC - the separatists),” the Yemeni government foreign ministry said.
The latest developments came after STC forces ousted unionist troops loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi from what was the capital of the formerly independent south in clashes that left at least 40 people dead.
A Saudi-led military coalition, which has backed pro-government forces against the Houthi rebels since 2015, sent a delegation to Aden on Thursday to discuss the new front in the crisis.
The alliance has "succeeded in calming the situation in Aden", spokesman Turki al-Maliki said Monday.
Read more: Yemen in Focus: Separatists announce plans to seize entire south
The STC withdrew from a number of public buildings to pave the way for talks, but they maintain control over key military positions and therefore over the city.
Analysts say the break between Hadi's internationally recognised government and the separatists reflects a wider rift between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi - a key player in the coalition - that threatens to undermine their common battle against the Houthis.
The UAE is Saudi Arabia's main coalition partner, but it trained and equipped the separatists.
The Aden clashes risk creating a "civil war within a civil war," the International Crisis Group think tank warned.
Ties between the UAE-backed Security Belt forces and Hadi loyalists have been strained for years, and this month's fighting was not the first time they have engaged in deadly clashes.
They fought a three-day battle in January 2018 that killed 38 people and wounded more than 200 others, after the government prevented a rally by separatists.
The Saudi-led coalition has urged the UAE-backed separatists to withdraw to clear the way for peace negotiations.
Last week, Yemen's UAE-backed separatists announced they would continue to control the city of Aden, declaring their pending intentions to seize control of other provinces in the south of the country.
In a statement, the separatists declared the restoration of the "independent federal state of the south," is irreversible, according to local Yemen Monitor which verified the document.
The separatist movement announced it would "liberate the remains of the valley of Hadramout, Beihan and Mekheras, and any other part of the southern territories still suffering from terrorism and occupation," referring to areas controlled by the internationally-recognised government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi. The separatists urged local authorities in southern governates to work under its umbrella organisation
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