The STC has again suspended its participation in implementing the Riyadh Agreement
The Southern Transitional Council (STC) has halted its participation since early February in the military and security committees formed to implement the Riyadh Agreement, a source informed on the implementation of the agreement told Almasdar Online. The UAE-sponsored separatist body had previously suspended then resumed its engagement in the implementation committees, but the latest halt comes as unprecedented tensions have emerged between the STC and Saudi Arabia.
The Riyadh Agreement, signed between the Yemeni government and the STC on November 5, calls for the reforming of armed groups under the unified structure of the Ministry of Defense, and for a reshuffling of the cabinet with equal seats between northerners and southerners, among other key points. The agreement came after months of tense negotiations hosted by Saudi Arabia, following the August 2019 battle in Aden that resulted in the UAE-sponsored Security Belt Forces and STC expelling the government from its seat of power.
The agreement now hangs in the balance, as many of the stipulated deadlines have passed without implementation on the ground. Moreover, one of the few milestones achieved – the return of Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed to the interim capital of Aden – was put into doubt as he left to Riyadh last week amid heightened tensions between government and STC-aligned forces.
The committees that the STC has suspended its participation in relate to the military and security components of the Riyadh Agreement, while the political component is being handled directly by the lead delegates of the Yemeni government and STC. These three components of the agreement are interrelated. The committees on the ground are supposed to be overseeing the crucial reforming of the security and military sectors, and there is unlikely to be progress on the political aspects of the agreement until that happens, which is why the prime minister left to Riyadh.
One of the most contentious points surrounding the implementation of the security and military annexes of the Riyadh Agreement is the repositioning of military forces, particularly from Shaqra area in Abyan, where President Hadi has strong loyalists in close proximity to Aden. On February 8, STC-aligned security forces in Aden prevented government forces from relocating to Lahj governorate, demanding the withdrawal of a separate unit in Shaqra. This came despite earlier agreement between the two parties during a meeting sponsored by the commander of the Saudi forces in Aden.
The show of force by pro-STC forces prompted an escalation in the rhetoric used by supporters of the STC, with a number of prominent separatists directly accusing Saudi Arabia of supporting the “northern regime” and “terrorist” leaders in Aden. The following day, the STC issued a statement stressing its keenness to have a strong partnership with the coalition, particularly Saudi Arabia. However, dozens of STC supporters demonstrated in front of the Saudi-led Coalition headquarters in Aden, and tensions remained heightened. Saudi Arabia has since deployed significant reinforcements of military equipment to Abyan and Shabwah governorates, where government forces are stationed.