Government officials have also been asked not to return to Aden as part of coalition efforts to kickstart the agreement, sources said
Saudi coalition barred STC leaders from Aden as part of informal deal to revive Riyadh Agreement
The Saudi-led coalition prevented four UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) leaders and a pro-STC security commander from departing the airport in Jordan’s capital Amman to Yemen’s interim capital Aden on Wednesday evening.
Jordanian intelligence officials at Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport told STC leaders Nasser Al-Khabji (Former governor of Lahj), Abdulrahman Sheikh (STC presidential advisor), Ahmed Al-Sharafi (rapporteur of the STC’s negotiating arm for the Riyadh Agreement), Mukhtar Al-Yafei (editor-in-chief of the pro-STC newspaper Aden 24), in addition to Aden’s former security chief Maj. Gen. Shallal Shaye’a that they would not be allowed to travel to Aden, according to sources close to the STC and an independent politician close to the Saudi Committee for the Implementation of Riyadh Agreement.
When the five men asked why they were being prevented from returning to Aden, the Jordanian officials said that it was at the coalition's request.
The decision comes amid long delays in the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement between Yemen's internationally recognized government and the STC, which has controlled Aden since its August takeover of the southern coastal city by force. The agreement was signed in early November with the purpose of preventing future clashes between the STC and the Yemeni government through the creation of a power-sharing government.
A security official working with Saudi forces in Aden told Almasdar Online on condition of anonymity that UAE officials informed Saudi Arabia about the STC team traveling to Aden via Amman at the last minute, after the Emiratis let them leave Abu Dhabi.
The UAE's communication to Saudi Arabia was a formality because the leaders were prohibited from returning to Aden in accordance with an informal agreement to facilitate implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, the security official said. He pointed out that the UAE could have prevented the STC leaders from leaving Abu Dhabi but chose not to, despite a prior agreement between the UAE and Saudi Arabia on certain decisions aimed at facilitating the task of implementing the Riyadh Agreement.
Saudi Arabia immediately took action to prevent the plane from departing Amman for Aden, asking the relevant authorities at Queen Alia airport to inform the STC team of the decision shortly before the plane took off.
The security official added that the Yemenia Airways plane that was supposed to transport the STC leaders flew to Aden without them. At that point they prepared to return to Abu Dhabi.
Later, STC spokesman Nizar Haitham demanded an explanation from the Saudi-led coalition’s leadership.
"We ask the coalition leadership for clarification on why we are prevented from returning home. We understand the internal repercussions that this will have on all levels, including peace efforts,” Haitham said in a statement broadcast on pro-STC TV channel Independent Aden.
He called on pro-STC forces to exercise restraint until they receive clarification from the Saudi-led coalition, adding that the STC had made all necessary concessions and accused the Yemeni government of manipulating the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement.
On Wednesday evening, the Saudi Foreign Ministry expressed its “keenness ... on the security and stability of brotherly Yemen, and its endeavor to implement the (Riyadh Agreement)."
The statement, published by the official Saudi Press Agency, called on both sides of the agreement to work toward its implementation without escalation.
Denying the STC leaders entry into Aden was an application of an unofficial understanding in the Riyadh Agreement, which provides for the removal of some figures involved in the armed takeover of Aden in August 2019, to a security official who works with Saudi forces told Almasdar Online in a statement. He pointed out that some leaders of the internationally recognized government were also asked not to return to Aden until the situation there stabilizes, but did not reveal their names.
The relationship between the STC and Saudi Arabia had recently deteriorated. It was evident in the defiant tone taken by Haitham, the STC spokesman, in his televised statement. During the appearance, he wore military fatigues, which is a Yemeni political custom that signals escalation.
But very little is known about the extent of the STC’s military power on the ground if it did decide to confront Saudi Arabia, given that most of the group’s heavy military vehicles were withdrawn by the UAE and payment of STC salaries shifted from the UAE to Saudi Arabia three months ago.
The implementation of the Riyadh Agreement has been frozen for some time, a government member of the committee implementing the agreement told Almasdar Online by telephone from Aden.
"Nothing new has happened recently, but let's hope that the latest Saudi action will end the stalemate. The situation in Yemen is collapsing in the north and in the south, and the government needs to return to Aden to run the country, which is getting worse by the day. No one benefits from the dispute except the Houthis,” he said.
The committee member accused the STC leaders of not realizing the seriousness of the Houthi military expansion or the humanitarian and living situation and said they are living in "La La Land."
"We have made many concessions, and informed the Saudi side that we are ready for more as the humanitarian, political and military situations worsen because the government cannot return to run the country from inside,” he said.