AMMAN, JORDAN - Long-time Yemen watcher, analyst Helen Lackner, says southern separatists likely will walk back their threat to reopen another dangerous front in the impoverished country’s five-year civil war. The threat, condemned by their financial backer, the United Arab Emirates, is expected to flounder given a lack of support. Meanwhile, the country already is ravaged by hunger and cholera, and now is fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
The United Arab Emirates announced April 25 it does not support a decision by the Southern Transitional Council, known as the STC, to declare self-rule in areas it controls in Yemen. The Emirates Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash also said at the time the UAE urges the full implementation of a peace deal for the south agreed upon last year, known as the Riyadh Agreement.
The UAE financially backs the separatist STC group and is a key player in the Saudi-led coalition, which is fighting the Iranian-supported Houthi movement in Yemen. British Yemen expert Helen Lackner says the UAE may be withholding funds to the southern separatist group, which controls Aden.
“Is the UAE continuing to pay? The main complaint of the STC, and that’s their main reason having made their declaration, is that their people are not being paid," Lackner said. "The military and security guys not being paid are pretty likely to change sides. I think the reason the STC made that decision and publicize was partly to improve their image, because their image had suffered considerably as a result of their inaction in connection with floods and the coronavirus.”
Since mid-April, more than 100,000 Yemenis, particularly in Aden, Lahij, Abyan, and the capital, Sana’a, have been affected by heavy rain and flash flooding. That has contaminated water supplies, damaged roads, power, and cut access to basic services.
More than 110,000 cases of suspected cholera have been recorded since January, according to UNICEF. To date, Yemen has reported 21 cases of COVID-19, including three deaths.
Lise Grande, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, has expressed concerns for the pandemic there, citing “low levels of general immunity, high levels of acute vulnerability, and a fragile, overwhelmed health system."
Lackner says the STC miscalculated when making their self-rule declaration.
“They were shocked at the negative response they’ve had everywhere, not only internationally," Lackner said. "Everybody has been saying for years: We want a united Yemen, we don’t want separation. The future has to be discussed within the international framework. The U.N., EU said the same thing. But I think they expected a different response internally. What’s happened is that all the other governorates immediately rejected it.”
Lackner added that the STC was in danger militarily of being cut off between Aden and the small hinterland it holds, which also may figure into its stepping back from its declaration.