SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Authorities in five southern provinces in Yemen on Sunday rejected a separatist group's claim to self rule, further heightening tensions among ostensible allies in the Saudi-led coalition battling Iran-aligned rebels elsewhere in the country.
The separatists’ Southern Transitional Council, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates, scrapped a peace deal with the Saudi-backed government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and declared a state of emergency overnight.
The separatists said they would “self-govern” the key southern port city of Aden and other southern provinces, accusing the government of corruption and mismanagement.
The government said local and security authorities in the provinces of Hadramawt, Abyan, Shabwa, al-Mahra and the remote island of Socotra dismissed the move as a “clear and definite coup." Some of the provinces issued their own statements condemning it.
Peter Salisbury, a Yemen expert at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said tensions between Hadi’s government and the separatists have been rising for months. He said both sides have exchanged accusations of noncompliance with the peace deal, and were building up forces with intent to resume infighting.
He said Saudi Arabia, which brokered the power-sharing deal and had been overseeing its implementation, was expected to intervene.
"Each side wants the Saudis to support its narrative and Riyadh is really caught in the middle right now,” Salisbury said.
The separatists overran Aden, the temporary seat of Hadi’s government, and key southern provinces in August. The STC seeks the return of the independent state that existed in the south until 1990.
In November, the two sides reached a power-sharing agreement meant to end the infighting and unify ranks against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. But the agreement has yet to be implemented.
Yemen’s civil war began in 2014 when the Houthis took control of the country’s north, including the capital, Sanaa. A Saudi-led military coalition intervened against the rebels on the side of the government the following year.
The conflict has killed over 100,000 people and created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical shortages.