Yemen’s president has criticized the “unacceptable” expulsion of hundreds of civilians from the southern cities of Aden and Taiz.
The civilians were expelled by southern forces who claimed that they originated from the north of the country, which is controlled by Iran-backed Houthi militias battling the internationally-recognized government.
“The individual acts of expelling citizens of Taiz and other cities [Aden] is unacceptable,” President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi said late Sunday, quoted by Yemen's news agency Saba.
Hadi, who hails from the south, heads up government forces and a coalition of allies who are taking part in peace talks in Kuwait.
The statement came after what Yemeni officials said armed groups have been raiding shops, restaurants and homes, arresting more than 2,000 northerners they say pose a threat to “security.”
Officials said they suspect the evictions are the work of secessionists who want southern Yemen to break away from the north. The two regions had been two separate countries before unification in 1990.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
However, a Yemeni police officer who took part in the raids told Al Arabiya English that “evicting these people was essential because we had evidence that these people were plotting something.”
Mohammed Abda Alrab al-Yafei, who is based in Aden, said that “with respect to Hadi, he is out of the country so he doesn’t see all that goes on in the city, there are deaths every day, bombing, attacks, assassinations – something needed to be done.”
“8,000 people in Aden are either Houthi militias or had some kind of connection to Houthis.”
Hadi’s Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher said acts by “dozens do not necessitate in any case expelling hundreds” of northerners from the city, describing the move as “harsh collective punishment against a group of citizens,” news agency Saba reported.
Bin Dagher called for improvements in security for Aden, and appealed against the “punishment” of other people.
Yet according to the officer, the raids were targeted.
“We didn’t just evict anyone. We had strong proof that to evict these people. Anyone who didn’t have ID or who could not prove that they are residents in Aden were taken back to where they came from,” he said.
The prime minister said Aden officials needed to “control the actions of all services that operate under their command,” and added that these acts were “unconstitutional and illegal” as well as against “basic human rights.”
Adam Baron, an expert on Yemen at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Al Arabiya English that “the security situation in Aden is fragile so it is not surprising that this is happening.”
Since pushing the Houthi militias out of Aden in July 2015, Yemen’s government has merged southern militiamen, many of them separatists, who fought alongside loyalists into the ranks of the armed forces and security services.
The expert explained that the tensions between the south and north existed before the current conflict.
“Since 1994 [during the civil war] many people in the south feel as though they have been marginalized. These issues will have to be dealt with sooner rather than later – even if they’re not being dealt with in the current peace talks,” he said.
In 1994, a short-lived secession bid was stamped out by Sanaa troops and since then the citizens of the south have complained of discrimination.
Many northerners who have moved to Aden and other cities of the south are accused by southerners of having benefitted from the previous regime of Saleh to seize land and property in the south.
Last month, thousands of supporters of the separatist Southern Movement demonstrated in Aden for secession of the south.
With continuing hostilities in the war-torn country, political turmoil continues as the UN special envoy to Yemen on Monday urged the country’s warring parties to make concessions to save peace talks aimed at ending a devastating 13-month war.
All direct peace talks scheduled for Sunday were called off, but the UN envoy said new talks are scheduled for Monday and appealed for cooperation.
Baron, the expert, stated that reaching a deal will take time.
“I am cautiously hopeful about the peace talks because this is the first time since the war that the waring side are sitting together to reach an agreement,” the expert said.
The militias and their allies have demanded the formation of a consensus transitional government before forging ahead with other issues that require them to surrender arms and withdraw from territories they occupied in 2014.
Meanwhile, on the same day, the airport of the coastal city of Mukalla which was recaptured by government and Emirati soldiers in April after a year-long occupation by al-Qaeda, reopened officials said.
“Driving out al-Qaeda in Mukalla represents a great victory, but the next challenge will be to make sure that there isn’t a power vacuum,” said Baron.
The first flight in on Sunday was a plane carrying relief supplies from the UAE, the officials said. The UAE said the consignment was carrying 20 tons of medicines and medical accessories from the UAE Red Crescent.
Since March last year, the Saudi-led coalition has bombed Iranian-backed Houthi militias and forces allied to deposed leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, in a bid to put the government of internationally recognized President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi back in power.
(With AFP, AP and Reuters)