Date: Aug 23, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Yemeni govt will not talk to separatists till standoff ends
RIYADH/WASHINGTON: Yemen’s Saudi-backed government said Wednesday it would not hold talks with southern separatists unless they hand back control of Aden port, after the separatist chief arrived in Saudi Arabia to discuss the standoff between the nominal allies.

Saudi Arabia, leader of a military coalition that includes the separatists, called for a summit after southern forces on Aug. 10 took over Aden, interim seat of the government, in a move that fractured the Arab alliance.

The Yemeni government and coalition partner the United Arab Emirates have traded blame over the crisis. Riyadh wants the alliance to resume its focus on fighting the Iran-backed Houthi movement which has stepped up attacks on Saudi cities.

“We will not participate in any dialogue with the Southern Transitional Council unless it withdraws from the sites it seized, hands over weapons, allows government forces to return and ends all its violations,” a Foreign Ministry statement said.

The separatist STC has refused earlier similar calls and Tuesday it extended its grip on the south by seizing government military camps in nearby Abyan. STC leader Aidaroos al-Zubaidi, arrived in the Saudi city of Jeddah that evening.

Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi’s government asked Abu Dhabi, which has called for dialogue, to stop funding and military arming separatist forces.

“If it were not for the full support provided by the United Arab Emirates ... this rebellion would not have happened. This scheme of fragmentation continues and is escalating despite calls for de-escalation led by Saudi Arabia,” a government letter to the United Nations Security Council Tuesday said.

The UAE rejected accusations it supported the STC in their seizure of Aden.

Separately, a U.S. military MQ-9 drone was shot down in the Dhamar governorate, southeast of the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa, two U.S. officials told Reuters Wednesday, the second such incident in recent months. A Houthi military spokesperson had earlier said that air defenses had brought down a U.S. drone.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the drone was shot down late Tuesday.

One of the officials said that it appeared that the armed military drone, made by California-based General Atomics, had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile operated by the Houthis.

The official said that while losing a drone was expensive, it was not unprecedented and it was unlikely to lead to any major response by the United States.

The other official cautioned that it was too early to tell who was responsible for the incident.

In a statement, the U.S. military said it was investigating reports that a drone had been attacked “in authorized airspace over Yemen.”“We have been clear that Iran’s provocative actions and support to militants and proxies, like the Iranian-backed Houthis, poses a serious threat to stability in the region and our partners,” the U.S. military’s Central Command said.

The White House said it was aware of the reports and President Donald Trump had been briefed on the matter.

Also Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said the coalition carried out at least five deadly attacks on Yemeni fishing boats in 2018, killing at least 47 Yemeni fishermen, including seven children.

The New York-based group also said that more than 100 Yemeni fishermen are being held in Saudi Arabia, some of whom have been tortured in custody. There was no immediate response by the coalition to the HRW allegations.

The rights group said it interviewed “survivors, witnesses, and knowledgeable sources about seven fishing boat attacks: six in 2018 and one in 2016.” Civilians died in five attacks carried out by small arms and heavy weapons.

It said the fishermen waved white cloths, raised their hands, or otherwise showed they posed no threat. In three attacks, coalition forces did not attempt to rescue survivors adrift at sea, and many drowned, HRW said.