Can new mechanism advance stalled Riyadh Agreement in southern Yemen?

Neither the Riyadh Agreement nor the mechanism for accelerating it can fundamentally end the conflict in southern Yemen, but will rather help suspend it and control its rhythm, according to analysts.

al-monitor A reinforcement convoy of Yemen's Security Belt Force dominated by members of the Southern Transitional Council seeking independence for southern Yemen heads from the southern city of Aden to Abyan province, amid tensions with the forces of Saudi-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, southern Yemen, Nov. 26, 2019. Photo by SALEH AL-OBEIDI/AFP via Getty Images.

Aug 24, 2020

Nearly eight months after the Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) signed the first version of the Riyadh Agreement on Nov. 5, 2019, in the Saudi capital Riyadh, under the auspices of King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and with the participation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the two Yemeni parties began implementing the Riyadh Agreement with a new 30-day mechanism on July 29.

Under the agreement, the two parties committed to activating the role of all state authorities and institutions in southern Yemen, reorganizing the armed forces under the leadership of the Ministry of Defense, reorganizing the security forces under the leadership of the Ministry of Interior, as well as ending all offensive media campaigns, in order to normalize the relationship between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the STC, which is supported by the UAE.

The new mechanism provides for appointing a new governor for Aden governorate, according to which Ahmed Lamlas was appointed. It also includes the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement’s provisions that stipulated a cease-fire, the withdrawal of the STC forces from the city of Aden, the removal of the warring forces on the Abyan governorate front and the return of the military forces to their main sites.

In addition, the agreement called for forming a new government that will equally represent northern and southern Yemen, provided that the share of the UAE-backed STC would be four portfolios in a government of 24 ministers, in return for giving up the autonomous administration that it had announced on April 26. This would be the fourth government since the war in Yemen began in March 2015.

Once the government is formed, the economic issue would be tackled, according to which the Supreme Economic Council, the Supreme Authority for Combating Corruption and the Central Organization for Control and Auditing will be formed, and the Central Bank governor will be appointed.

However, a Yemeni government official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the new mechanism does not address the political issues and finding a solution to the southern and Yemeni issue in general, given that “resolving these issues is linked to regional and international understandings.”

Meanwhile, several complications are impeding the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, in addition to its rejection by some southern forces, most notably what was stated by the Southern Movement's Supreme Council, which rejected Aug. 2 the agreement “altogether,” hinting at protests to defend the demand for separation and restoring the southern Yemeni state.

This could further complicate the chances of implementing the Riyadh Agreement, especially since Hassan Baoum, head of the Supreme Council of the Southern Movement who resides in the Sultanate of Oman, announced that he will return to southern Yemen soon to confront anything that comes in the way of establishing an independent southern state.

The undersecretary of the Yemeni Ministry of Information, Fayyad al-Noman, told Al-Monitor, “The STC’s rebellion in the southern governorates was one of the reasons for diverting the course of the real battle [against the Houthis]. This is why — since it agreed to the Riyadh Agreement in November 2019 — the Yemeni government has been seeking to unify the political, security and military decision in the governorates liberated from the Houthis, with the aim of devoting itself directly to the real battle against the Iran-backed Houthi group.”

He believes that “implementing the Riyadh Agreement has become an inevitable necessity for both parties, and the remaining period for its implementation according to the mechanism announced on July 29 will reveal the STC’s seriousness in implementing the security and military part of the agreement.”

Noman noted, “The implementation of the Riyadh Agreement was stalled in the past due to the STC’s failure to implement its obligations in the security and military file.”

On Aug. 14, Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed al-Jaber announced the first steps to implement the military part of the mechanism to accelerate the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement between the legitimate government and the STC.

In a tweet, Jaber noted that the Saudi Coordination and Liaison Team, with the participation of the Saudi-led coalition forces in Aden, began supervising the removal of government and southern military forces from Aden governorate, and the withdrawal of forces in Abyan and their return to their previous locations, as part of the new mechanism.

The Riyadh Agreement gives the Saudi-led coalition ample space to intervene in Yemen through the clause that stipulates “forming a committee under the supervision of the Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen, led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, tasked with monitoring, executing and implementing the provisions of this agreement and its appendices.” The committee is known as the Saudi Coordination and Liaison Team.

STC spokesman Nazar Haitham told Al-Monitor, “The Riyadh Agreement is a true embodiment of a clear-cut partnership between the STC and the legitimate government supported by the Arab coalition.”

Haitham noted, “Emphasis will be placed on unifying efforts to confront the Houthi militias and terrorist organizations; provide security and safety for citizens; and work to improve the level of services in all southern governorates.”

Yemeni author and political researcher Abdel Nasser al-Muwadea told Al-Monitor, “This agreement has set Saudi Arabia as a guardian state over the southern regions, according to which it will supervise and manage the forces present there — be it the separatist forces or those of President [Abed Rabbo Mansour] Hadi. Saudi Arabia will also oversee the merger process and the formation of anti-terrorism forces, as well as it will determine the tasks of these forces and the areas of their deployment.”

Muwadea added, “The agreement reduces President Hadi's powers, as all appointment decisions he would issue would need Saudi Arabia's approval.”

The successive crises in southern Yemen between the legitimate government and the STC have weakened the relationship within the Saudi-UAE alliance since the Saudi-backed Yemeni government accuses the UAE of supporting and financing the STC, especially after the latter declared autonomous administration in southern Yemen in April. This is why it has become crucial for both Saudi Arabia and the UAE to speed up the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement. However, many observers do not believe that this agreement will fundamentally end the conflict, but rather work to suspend it and control its rhythm.

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