Saudi Arabian forces have taken over control of Yemen’s southern port of Aden as part of efforts to end a power struggle between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and southern separatists, four sources familiar with the matter said.
Last week the UAE, Riyadh’s main partner in the Arab Coalition battling Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia, started withdrawing troops from Aden, seemingly to pave the way for a deal to end the local standoff.
The separatists are part of the Arab Coalition that intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to try to restore the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, which was ousted from the capital, Sanaa, in 2014 by the Iran-backed Houthis.
In August, the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), which seeks self-rule in the south, turned on Hadi’s government and seized its interim base of Aden, sparking wider clashes that opened a new front in the war.
Saudi Arabia has in the past week deployed more forces to replace Emirati troops at Aden airport and military bases in the city, two Yemeni officials told Reuters.
An official handover to a Saudi Arabian commander took place last week under which he would oversee security in the city and its suburbs, two other sources familiar with the matter said.
Saudi Arabia has been hosting indirect talks for a month between Hadi’s government and separatist leaders. Sources had said the two sides were close to agreeing a Saudi Arabian proposal to give the STC seats in the cabinet and place separatist forces under government command.
Hadi’s government has asked the UAE to stop arming and training separatist forces while the UAE has said Hadi’s government is ineffective and distrusts the forces with whom he is allied.
Progress on both tracks would boost United Nations efforts to restart peace talks. The UAE was already scaling down its presence in Yemen as Western allies pressed for an end to the war and tension with Iran grew.
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