In Abyan, de-escalation committee seeks to revive implementation of Riyadh Agreement
A de-escalation committee aimed at supporting the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement said negotiations have stalled in Abyan between government and Southern Transitional Council (STC) forces, with the latter demanding the withdrawal of a Presidential Protection Brigade unit from the coastal town of Shaqra.
After concluding its field visit to the governorate this week, the committee submitted a proposal to re-implement the military and security annexes of the agreement in Abyan, a member of the committee told Almasdar Online. However, neither side has been willing to budge during the negotiations, and local residents reported the arrival of reinforcements to Abyan from either side.
The de-escalation committee is comprised of senior military commanders and social figures primarily from Abyan and Lahj governorates, and several of the members are independent from the parties to the agreement. The committee is supported by Saudi Arabia and affiliated with the main joint military and security committee, which is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement.
The Riyadh Agreement, signed by the Yemeni government and STC on November 5, came after months of negotiations facilitated by Saudi Arabia, following deadly clashes in Aden and surrounding governorates. The agreement stipulates the reformation of armed groups under a unified structure in the Ministry of Defense, and for the cabinet to be reshuffled with equal seats going to northerners and southerners, among other points.
The de-escalation committee presented both sides with a proposal to revive the implementation of the military and security annexes of the Riyadh Agreement, focused specifically on Abyan. The proposal concerns the de-escalation of tension between government forces and STC forces in the governorate, particularly at strategic locations along the main coastal road east of Aden. This includes the governorate capital Zinjibar, which is about 35km east of Aden city along the coastal road, and the town of Shaqra further east along the coast.
The proposal introduced by the de-escalation committee entails the governorate security forces (under the government-aligned security chief of Abyan) returning to Zinjibar, where they would take over responsibility for security issues in the governorate in partnership with personnel belonging to the STC-aligned Security Belt Forces.
In response, the STC informed the de-escalation committee that as a precondition for allowing the governorate security forces into Zinjibar, a pro-government battalion belonging to the 1st Presidential Protection Brigade must withdraw from Abyan, the military source told Almasdar Online. The military unit in question is led by Colonel Hassan Bin Mu’aili, who STC-aligned forces have previously clashed with.
The committee then went to Shaqra to discuss the STC’s condition with the Joint Forces Command, which includes government forces based in the town. Brigadier General Sanad Al-Rahwa informed the committee of the government’s rejection of this measure. The committee asked for 48 hours for Al-Rahwa to revive negotiations with the STC, but the source said that the deadline expired Thursday evening without the STC backing down. Al-Rahwa informed the committee that the deadline would be extended for negotiations with the STC until Saturday.
Amid the negotiations, local residents and sources in the Sheikh Salem area in eastern Zinjibar district said that STC forces had repositioned military reinforcements from their stronghold in Lahj governorate to the coastal area, close to the tense line of contact with government forces. Based on accounts from locals, the two batches of reinforcements included tanks and military vehicles, mobile artillery and heavy and medium weapons, with dozens of trucks carrying soldiers and pro-STC fighters, and arrived on Wednesday and Thursday.
Around the same time, government reinforcements arrived in the town of Shaqra, but armed men loyal to the STC set up around five ambushes along the route, injuring five soldiers and damaging several military vehicles.
Government forces have been stationed in Shaqra area, located in Khanfir district of Abyan, since September 2019. They repositioned there after withdrawing from the outskirts of Aden following the UAE airstrike on government forces in late August. Government forces are deployed throughout the centrally-located districts of Abyan governorate, including Lawdar, Mudiyah, and Al-Wadea districts.
UAE-aligned Security Belt Forces maintain some presence in Lawdar and Mudiyah, as well as the districts of Jayshan, Ahwar and Al-Mahfad. Pro-STC forces also control the western portion of Abyan that neighbors Aden and Lahj, including the districts of Zinjibar, Sarar, Sibah, and Rasd, in addition to the mountainous areas of Khanfir district.