Those forces were brought to Abyan during the military clashes between the two sides in September and October
In closed-door meeting, STC and army forces strike informal deal to vacate Abyan
As part of the implementation of the military annex of the Riyadh Agreement, some military units from the internationally recognized government’s 3rd Presidential Protection Brigade withdrew from the coastal town of Shaqra in Abyan governorate to the Akad Camp in Abyan’s Lawdar district Wednesday. Others headed to Shabwa governorate, an official from the Fourth Military Region not authorized to speak with the press told Almasdar Online.
Wednesday’s withdrawals follow a Sunday meeting which brought together leaders of government forces with the leaders of the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) at the Saudi-led coalition headquarters in Aden. The meeting was dedicated to reviving the Riyadh Agreement, whose implementation has been stalled since it was signed in November. There have been no statements regarding what the parties agreed to at Sunday’s meeting.
That meeting, called by Saudi Arabia in support of the efforts of the de-escalation committee, included prominent leaders of the Fourth Military Region, southern political leaders and social figures in Lahj and Abyan governorates.
The STC delegation had demanded the departure of the 3rd Presidential Protection Brigade, led by Col. Hassan Bin Mu’aili, to Shabwa as a prerequisite for its own forces’ departure. But the military official was unable to confirm whether Bin Mu’aili’s units were among the government forces that had withdrawn to Shabwa. A member of the de-escalation committee told Almasdar Online that as of Wednesday, STC forces have not yet withdrawn from their positions including in Shaqra.
The committee member said that the STC leadership is expected to begin withdrawing factions from the 5th Logistics and Support Brigade of the Security Belt Forces and units of the Sa’eqa (Thunder) Brigade stationed in Abyan’s capital of Zinjibar and its outskirts in line with the agreement. In the meantime, the STC will not withdraw all its forces from the coastal governorate.
Despite the discussions on Sunday regarding the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, an atmosphere of mistrust remains, the committee member said.
A source close to the STC forces said that they would not implement the clauses of the military annex relating to the withdrawal of troops from Aden and Abyan or the handing over of heavy and medium weapons until after receiving assurances from Saudi Arabia that they would prevent any military advance of government forces.
According to the source, the clauses will not be implemented because there is a lack of trust and confidence in the relationship with Saudi Arabia. The STC and its political and media circles see Saudi Arabia as a strong supporter of the government forces. The STC also refuses implementation to avoid losing control of military equipment gained after they took over Aden in August.
In the closed-door meeting at coalition headquarters in the Al-Sha’b area of Al-Buraiqa district in west Aden, an official with detailed knowledge of the meeting said government forces and STC forces made an informal deal to begin mutual withdrawals of their forces from Abyan.
According to the official, the deal focuses on the withdrawal from Abyan of STC forces, who had come from Lahj and Aden,in exchange for the withdrawal of government forces from the coastal city of Shaqra.
Those forces were brought to Abyan during the military clashes between the two sides in September and October.
According to the source, the deal includes the entry of troops from the 1st Presidential Protection Brigade to the Presidential Palace in the Crater district of Aden, and the withdrawal of troops and factions belonging to STC. The First Infantry Brigade, which is under the direct control of STC President Aidarous Al-Zubaidi, would remain.
The deal also includes allowing the Abyan Security Department to enter Zinjibar and to manage its security with Abyan-based Security Belt Forces that have been in the governorate since before the August clashes.
Editied by Ahlam Mohsen and Casey Coombs