SANA'A - Clashes between a Yemeni separatist militia, backed by the United Arab Emirates, and forces loyal to the internationally recognized government killed at least three civilians and wounded nine in southern Abyan province on Tuesday, security officials and local residents said.
The fighting between the two sides — ostensible allies in the Saudi-led coalition that for years has been fighting Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels, based in the north — has added another layer to the complex civil war in the Arab world's most impoverished country.
After a 10-hour battle, the Security Belt militia, which is trained and financed by the UAE, overran a military camp belonging to the government's special forces in the provincial capital, Zinjibar, and deployed across much of the city, said the officials and residents. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk to the media, while the residents spoke anonymously, fearing reprisal.
The separatists last week took over the port city of Aden, to the west of Zinjibar. Aden has functioned as the seat of President Abed Rabbo Manour Hadi's government since the Houthis captured Sana'a, Yemen's capital, and much of the country's north in 2014.
Yemen's information minister, Moammer al-Iryani, urged the Saudi-led coalition to pressure the militia to withdraw their forces from Zinjibar. Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdullah al-Hadrami called for an "immediate and complete halt of military and financial support" by the UAE to the Yemeni separatists.
U.N. envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths said Tuesday he was alarmed by the violence in Aden and Abyan. "I condemn the unacceptable efforts by the Southern Transitional Council to take control of state institutions," he said.
Though a key member of the coalition, the UAE never threw its full support behind Hadi because of his ties to Yemen's Muslim Brotherhood group, a pan-Arab movement that many Arab countries, including UAE, consider a terrorist organization.
After the separatists took control of Aden, the Saudi-led coalition ordered an immediate cease-fire and threatened to bomb them if they didn't return to positions they held before the fighting.
The coalition also called for both the separatists and Hadi's government to attend reconciliation talks in Saudi Arabia, without setting a date. The separatist militia said it would attend but did not withdraw from Aden.
The fighting in Aden began earlier this month following the funeral of a separatist leader killed in a Houthi rocket attack. At the time, Hani Bin Braik, a separatist leader and former Cabinet minister, called for the overthrow of Hadi's government.
The crisis has cast doubt on the cohesiveness of the Saudi-led coalition in its war against the Houthis. Yemen's war has killed tens of thousands of people and has spawned the world's worst humanitarian crisis.