It's certainly not the end of Yemen's civil war, but it is a step toward ending — temporarily at least — one of its battles. According to sources speaking Oct. 24, the secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC) and the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi appear very close to sealing a deal to end their months-old rift. Sources close to the Saudi-mediated talks in Jeddah said the two sides had agreed to a draft and could ink a deal in the coming week in Riyadh. The agreement will reportedly grant greater southern representation in the Yemeni government, with half the ministers set to come from the north and half from the south. More notably — especially as there are already Yemenis with southern roots in the government — the draft agreement envisions the incorporation of STC militias into Yemen's official security forces. In addition, the agreement calls for the Hadi government and Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed to return to the Yemeni government's official temporary seat in Aden within the next two weeks.
Why It Matters
The agreement puts the Saudi-led coalition on better footing for negotiations with the Iran-aligned Houthi rebel movement, which holds territory in the north and the capital city, Sanaa. Saudi Arabia is increasingly looking for a negotiated exit to its ongoing military intervention in the face of rising pressure from Iran, the United Arab Emirates' exit from the Yemen war and war-weariness at home, but the north-south split between its Yemeni allies complicates its negotiating power with the Houthis.
The deal gives the STC more power in Yemen's government, nudging it further toward its goal of autonomy and, in the more distant future, the restoration of an independent South Yemen.
The deal also gives the STC more power in Yemen's government, nudging it further toward its goal of autonomy and, in the more distant future, the restoration of an independent South Yemen. In particular, the recognition of the STC's Security Belt forces as a part of the Yemeni government will boost the council's legitimacy, giving it a greater say in Yemen's security. Ultimately, the gains have proven that the STC can use its militias to seize on crises and splits with the Hadi administration to build leverage against the internationally recognized government.
Formed in 2017, the STC is united with the Hadi government in the fight against the Houthi rebels, but the STC ultimately wants to establish a separate South Yemen. Naturally, this goal threatens the Hadi government's imperative to maintain north-south unity and prevent another fault line from deepening Yemen's already-complicated civil conflict.
In August, the STC wrested control of most of Aden, the largest city in the south. At present, the STC is giving the city back — in exchange for increased legitimacy. If the council and the Hadi government again cross swords, however, the STC is well-placed to retake Aden for trading for more political concessions. And while the Saudi forces that are deploying to Aden in place of the withdrawn Emirati forces could certainly help prevent another flare-up in north-south tensions in Yemen, such forces might not be around long enough to keep the peace in Yemen's fractured conflict given Riyadh's desire finally to negotiate its exit from the battle with the Houthis.