Reuters/Ali Owidha

Will Southerners Impose a New Fait Accompli?


Tue, 28-02-2023 11:58 AM, Aden Time

Farida Ahmed (South24) 

Since the end of the truce between the warring parties on October 2nd 2022, the Houthis have rejected responding to the efforts made by the UN Envoy to Yemen “Hans Grundberg” and other international and regional endeavors to renew it. The Houthis have insisted on a number of conditions to accept renewing the truce. They include paying the salaries of all employees within the areas under their control including their military and security militias. Moreover, they demand lifting all restrictions imposed on the Sanaa Airport and the Port of Hodeidah. It seems that the Saudi-led Coalition accepted alleviating the restrictions against ships heading to Al-Hodeidah and reducing the inspection operations up to more than 90% according to the Saudi newspaper “Al-sharq Al-Awsat”. The Houthis praised the move which has not so far been officially disclosed and expressed their hope to remove all “restrictions” such as revoking the UNIFEM committee.

In response to this move which has enhanced the Houthi economic and maritime influence in North Yemen, the internationally-recognized government increased the price of the customs dollar in the ports of South Yemen by 50% last month. This would delay the balance of trade coming to the strategic Port of Aden and increase the cost of the imported goods. Additionally, this would harm both consumers and companies in South Yemen and the areas controlled by the government in North Yemen. A number of economists believe that the decision is disastrous as it would increasingly push merchants to turn their back to the Port of Aden towards less costly ports such as the Houthi-controlled Port of Hodeidah or the Port of Salalah in Oman.

The remarkable synchronicity of decisions of this kind reveals that they are part of the current Omani-mediated understandings between the Saudis and the Houthis. Furthermore, this comes concurrently with the Houthis establishing customs points within the governorates to prevent merchants from receiving their goods via the Port of Aden and force them, through written pledges, to import from the Port of Hodeidah. 

Practically, in order not to impact the commercial navigation traffic in the ports of Aden and Mukalla, Southerners should push for removing the Houthi customs points imposed on the goods coming from Southern ports. Instead, similar customs points should be imposed on the goods coming from the Port of Hodeidah. This has to be included in the negotiation agenda adopted by STC.

Despite what is happening in the back channels between the Saudis and the Houthis and monopolizing understandings regarding the truce and ceasefire, Southerners shouldn’t accept to be marginalized in any negotiations that would determine the fate of the state. The Southerners’ absence from the negotiation tables, foremost of whom is STC which is one of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) main partners, may blow up any sincere efforts seeking for achieving comprehensive and sustainable peace. There is solid information seen by “South24 Center” that the Houthis and some parties inside the PLC and the internationally-recognized government desperately seek to keep the main parties in South Yemen outside the path of the international and regional efforts for a comprehensive political operation. Some parties in the government still delay the work of the joint negotiation team which was agreed upon within PLC at an earlier time but has not been officially announced. We would like to remind that all peace efforts with the Houthi militias have failed so far due to the absence of Southerners. The latest Omani efforts to reach a direct deal between the Houthis and the Saudis will likely fail

Given that the mutual understandings went beyond the truce, Southerners had to take a more strict decision. Recently, the STC informed the UN Envoy that South Yemen needs to be represented by an independent delegation in the comprehensive political process negotiations. It also asked to enable Southerners from managing their governmental affairs through negotiations till reaching a comprehensive peace deal.

It seems that these statements likely pushed Grundberg to fly to the UAE to meet the STC President and PLC Member Aidrous Al-Zubaidi and a number of Emirati diplomats “to discuss the regional support in order to reach a sustainable peace settlement”. 

Relentless pressures

It seems that the latest demands for the STC indicate that there is a real crisis, especially that some of the bilateral understandings between the Saudis and the Houthis include talks about a final peace solution and perceptions about the shape of the future state. This is seen by Southerners as an outright breach of the outputs of GCC’s Consultations held in Riyadh which listing South Yemen issue as part of the negotiation agenda to stop the war and allocate a special negotiation framework for it in the comprehensive peace process. Moreover, this also violates the Riyadh Agreement which confirmed the STC’s participation in the government’s delegation in the consultations for a final political solution to end the Houthi coup. Since the Yemeni government and PLC don’t have clear positions or cards on the table, the STC had to declare a certain position towards the path of these negotiations. 

There is a more important matter regarding the salaries of the Southern security forces which have not been paid for more than 8 months although KSA pledged to pay these salaries based upon the Riyadh Agreement. These salaries had been paid by the UAE before the latter left Aden in late 2019. It seems that KSA’s decline to fulfill its obligations is based on two things: The first is funding new armed entities that are directly subordinate to it. This aims to besiege STC and to gradually strip it from its military arms. The second is to force STC to accept any settlements or understandings resulting from Riyadh's unilateral efforts with the Houthis. 

The government justified increasing the price of the customs dollar as being part of the measures it takes to face the economic challenges resulted from halting oil exports due to the threats by the Houthi militia of bombing the export ports in South Yemen. However, this can be practically considered as part of the political and economic pressures against Aden which is the STC's strongholds and one of its points of strength. Despite the government's pretexts, the STC expressed its rejection of the decision. “South24 Center” learned that the decision would be revoked soon.

Will the STC take a bolder step?

Undoubtedly, according to announced positions which are always expressed by the STC regarding the issue of South Yemen’s people and their political, economic, developmental and security aspirations there, the council will be obliged to refuse any endeavors which may touch its main issue and the entitlements achieved by Southerners over the years of conflict. 

So far, it is clear that the STC still deals with the developments of the current scene with patience despite the internal and external pressures. However, the updates and current events may increase the severity of disparity and disagreements within the PLC for the aforementioned reasons. 

Currently, the STC has to take a bolder move which would lead to a special status for South Yemen’s governorates and managing them independently, especially that negotiations for a comprehensive solution rotate in a closed and very complicated circle which may extend for years. 

However, the proposed question is related to how far the STC is able to take such a move and its consequences on other files related to the Saudi-led Coalition and the “legitimate” entities in which the council serves as a partner. 

Previously, the STC issued an autonomous rule declaration in April 2020 before backing off this decision in late July of that year. This came after being pressured by Saudi Arabia in return for accelerating the mechanism of the Riyadh Agreement signed in November 2019. As there are challenges regarding the implementation of the outstanding items of the Riyadh Agreement and the subsequent March 2022 Consultations along with attempts to alienate the Southern forces from taking important and crucial decisions at the level of the government and PLC, a similar move to declare self-rule or self-management permanently is necessary to maintain the achievements made in South Yemen. 

A couple of days following the release of this analysis in its Arabic version, the tension between the STC and the PLC grew, following statements by the PLC Chairman Rashad Al-Alimi regarding South Issue in which he stated that discussing its solution is currently inappropriate.

The STC rejected those statements, saying that they "do not indicate the seriousness of the partnership and consensus that resulted from the GCC consultations." They stressed that discussing South Issue "does not accept postponement."

The head of the STC Negotiating Unit "Nasser Al-Khubaji" said that "continuing to ignore South Issue will push towards taking other options and ending the partnership with the Yemeni government and the PLC." However, he did not disclose those options.

Accordingly, the failure to ensure a real and fair representation for South Yemen in the political settlement efforts to end the conflict would lead to un-calculated escalation at the popular and media levels and probably at the military and security one. This may ultimately lead to new violence circles that would repeat the scenarios of the 2018 and 2019 conflict in Aden. Moreover, this would lead to the dissolution of the PLC and the Aden-based government. This would strengthen the Houthi position in North Yemen and consequently weaken the position of Saudi Arabia which apparently doesn’t take these risks into account.

Farida Ahmed 

Executive Director of South24 Center for News and Studies 

South YemenSTCHouthisNorth YemenIndependenceAdenRiyadh ConsultationsPLCPort of HodiedahHans Grundberg