UAE hands Saudi positions in south Yemen to ease tensions

Dubai (AFP) –


The UAE Monday handed over to Saudi forces key positions in Yemen's southern city of Aden in a bid to defuse tensions between separatists and the government, a security official said.

The United Arab Emirates has trained and supported forces of the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), which seeks an independent southern Yemen, despite being a key pillar in a Saudi-led military coalition backing the government against Iran-aligned Huthi rebels.

Yemen's internationally recognised government and the STC have been holding indirect negotiations in Saudi Arabia aimed at reaching a power-sharing agreement, after clashes that erupted earlier this year.

The STC security force said the UAE "has withdrawn" from Al-Anad airbase, Yemen's largest located north of Aden, the southern city's international airport and a port "and handed them over to Saudi troops".

The pullback is apparently aimed at facilitating the deal being thrashed out between the government and the separatists.

Clashes in August between the secessionists and loyalists -- who for years fought on the same side against the Huthis -- have raised fears that the war-torn country could break apart entirely.

The Yemeni government accused the UAE of launching air strikes against its troops in Aden, while the Emirates said it was acting in self-defence against "terrorist militias" threatening the Saudi-led coalition.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there has been "a lot of progress" in the past couple of days in the talks underway in Saudi Arabia.

The coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 as the Huthi rebels closed in on Aden, prompting President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to flee into Saudi exile.

The conflict has since killed tens of thousands of people -- most of them civilians -- and driven millions more to the brink of famine in what the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.