A Special Status for South and the Internationalization of the Riyadh Agreement


Sun, 11-07-2021 06:31 PM, Aden

Aden (South24) 

With developments in South Yemen, the US, France and the UK issued successive statements by their ambassadors in Yemen, all of which basically emphasized "an end to tension and escalation in the Southern governorates and a return to negotiations to implement the Riyadh Agreement."

The US embassy in Yemen published an official statement on behalf of its acting ambassador, Cathy Westley, in which she stressed the need to stop the "escalatory rhetoric and actions in Yemen's Southern governorates," and urged the parties to "return dialogue to implement the Riyadh Agreement." She also warned "those who undermine Yemen's security, stability and unity" that they "risk being subjected to an international response."

Less than a day after Westley's statement, which sparked widespread controversy, the French ambassador to Yemen, Jean-Marie, said - in a statement "extracted" by the Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat - that "the escalation of provocative decisions and rhetoric from all parties in South Yemen must stop," stressing that his country strongly supports the Riyadh Agreement to reach a comprehensive political solution under the auspices of the United Nations.

As for the UK ambassador to Yemen, Michael Aron, he stressed - in a tweet on his official account - the need to "end all provocative measures and immediately return to the negotiating table for the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement," expressing deep concern "from the recent escalation in South," and stressing It "contradicts the Riyadh Agreement".

Growing interest

Overall, the statements reflected a growing international interest in South Yemen's special status in the overall Yemeni crisis. The statements showed an international understanding of the Yemeni conflict map and dealt with South Yemen - for the first time in decades - independently. However, this approach still stems only from the description of the modern crisis so far and not from a broader openness to the roots of the crisis which would thus lead to its final and sustainable solution.

The frequency of the phrases “South Yemen, the South and Southern Yemeni governorates” in the three statements can be interpreted as an international recognition of a new reality that divides the Yemeni crisis into two parts; Southern and Northern and sets different accounts for South Yemen.

These statements seem to signal the end of the holistic view of the crisis in Yemen which shows the crisis as "all and one", far from the reality of the ground. It has always complicated the conflict taking it to other levels and prolonging its duration and thwarted all international and UN resolutions.

The STC, which seeks "independence and the return of the state of South," quickly picked up this international signal, and praised a statement by the "STC's Special Representative for Foreign Affairs Amr al-Bidh, for what he called "interest in South and considering that its stability is a pivotal step for stability in the region."

Although the statements - American and French - emphasized the "unity of Yemen", which contradicts the efforts of the STC and the Southerners demanding the return of the two states prior to May 22, 1990. This assertion can be accounted as a normal protocol position that has been repeated throughout 3 decades of by these countries and others. It does not constitute a new addition or a different position that can be built upon in analyzing the policies and directions of these countries. In addition to the fact that the reality imposed by the Houthis in North Yemen has created objective conditions that contradict international calls and established a real separation in the geography of North Yemen, which they control most of it.

This new view of the situation in South Yemen can also be considered as evidence of the level of real progress made by the Southerners under the leadership of the STC towards the "independence" mission and the return of their state, and their arrival at a level that pushes the most effective international forces to establish a separate view of reality there.

Since their establishment in 2017, the STC has been able to transfer the cause of South Yemen to effective and influential international forums including these three countries, in addition of establishing a new reality in the Southern governorates, and repositioning and rearranging themselves as a strong and firm party in resolving the crisis.

De-escalation and the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement

The Riyadh Agreement signed between the STC and the government of President Hadi in 2019 was the focus of what the three countries’ statements emphasized. This strong joint position is fully consistent with the repeated calls of the STC to "complete the implementation of the agreement with all its provisions", since the departure of the ministers of the other party in the parity government from the capital Aden, a few months after their arrival to the governorate.

The STC accuses the other party in the Riyadh Agreement of "repudiating and evading obligations and responsibility towards citizens and trying to blow and destroy the agreement," and has constantly stressed its "full adherence" to the agreement, and the need to implement all its political, military, administrative and economic provisions.

It is important that the three statements not be taken in isolation from the Saudi efforts constantly exerted to push the two parties of the Riyadh Agreement to complete the consultations for its implementation, as these statements appeared as a Saudi mobilization of influential international positions to support its position, and pressure towards the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, which is subjected to major obstacles that threaten to foil it. Although Saudi Arabia appeared recently biased in favor of one of the parties to the agreement.

The statements called for a halt of escalations in the governorates of South Yemen and an end to the manifestations of tension in them; this follows a series of events that began since the ministers of the Hadi government left Aden without clear justifications, which the STC considered a direct breach of the agreement stipulating that the government should remain in Aden.

The STC accuses the other side of escalation in South by withdrawing their ministers from Aden, the continuous military build-up in Abyan governorate (the battleground between the two parties), and the suppression of Southerners in Shabwa and Hadramout, which are controlled by pro-Hadi forces, which mostly consist of North Yemeni soldiers.

Pro-Hadi forces launched a massive arrest campaign against leaders and members of the STC, including STC director in Hadramout, and others, in addition to a number of civilians in Shabwa. As a result, protests and mass events erupted in Shabwa "in rejection of the illegal detentions and arrests", which the Yemeni government forces faced with weapons and violent repression and tried to prevent them through additional arrests of activists and STC members.

Other new and larger events also took place in Shabwa and Hadramout on the 7th of July, in what was known as "Southern Land Day", which coincides with the memory of the war against South Yemen in 1994.

The calls for de-escalation made by the three statements concern the Yemeni government more than any other party. It is practically the one who started this escalation in the governorates of South Yemen, according to observers.

Although prominent figures in the STC responded to the statements that they bear a negative attitude towards the STC and the Southerners - this was most likely due to the term “Yemeni unity,” these statements can be considered a clear condemnation of the escalation initiated by the Yemeni government, which caused natural popular reactions in Southern governorates.

STC spokesperson Ali al-Kathiri, told the Saudi newspaper, Asharq Al-Awsat, that they in the STC “informed the USA” of their response regarding Cathy Westley’s statement, stressing that the STC “appreciates any urgent efforts to end the killing, repression and crimes against civilians in South, and welcomes any initiative” to proceed immediately to complete the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement.

Internationalization of the agreement

Saudi Arabia - which leads the Arab Coalition in Yemen - sponsors the Riyadh Agreement between the STC and the Yemeni government with declared international support for the agreement and its importance in a comprehensive political solution to the crisis, but this exclusive role for Saudi Arabia seems closer than ever to change. It will mean the actual entry of larger international parties in implementing the Riyadh Agreement - similar to their role in the negotiations between the Houthis and the Yemeni government - to the internationalization of the agreement, and its removal from the closed Saudi circle.

If this happens, it can be said that the STC is the biggest beneficiary, as the major countries can press more strongly to implement the agreement, which ultimately means official international recognition of the STC as a major third party in resolving the Yemeni crisis alongside the Houthis who control North and the Yemeni government. Or as a main party within the Yemeni government, as stipulated in the clause “forming a joint negotiating delegation” within the political part of the agreement.

The internationalization of the agreement will also reduce the Saudi role and influence to some extent, which means a weaker position for the Yemeni government, which is clearly siding with this role especially since this bias stems from “other Saudi calculations for the situation in North Yemen,” in light of the continued quiet rapprochement with Iran. As well as from trying to maintain the "legitimate cover" under which the Saudi's intervention in the Yemeni crisis.

Jacob Al-Sufyani

Editor and journalist at South24 Center for News and Studies

Photo: A demonstrator raises the flag of South and behind him a large plaque showing the leaders of the STC, during a large demonstration in Seiyun, Hadramaut, July 8, 2021 (Assaad Joban / Hadramout 21)