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Yemen government delays return, officials blame separatists

AHMED AL-HAJ and SAMY MAGDY
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Yemen

In this photo released by the Saudi Royal Palace, Yemeni Southern Transitional Council member and former Aden Governor Nasser al-Khabji, left, and Yemen’s deputy Prime Minister Salem al-Khanbashi greet each other before signing a power-sharing deal witnessed by Yemen's president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, background right, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, center, and Dhabi's Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Yemen's internationally recognized government signed a power-sharing deal with Yemeni separatists that are backed by the United Arab Emirates. A picture of Saudi Arabia's founder late King Abdul Aziz Al Saud hangs on wall. (Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP)

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen’s internationally recognized government was forced to delay its return to the port city of Aden, officials said Sunday, blaming southern separatists for stalling on the key point of a power-sharing deal signed early this month to end their infighting.

Under the agreement brokered by Saudi Arabia between Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the separatists, the government was to have returned to Aden last Tuesday. The separatists pushed government forces out and captured Aden during clashes last summer.

Their infighting added another complex layer to the country’s civil war, in which the government and the separatists, backed by the United Arab Emirates, are in a military alliance led by Saudi Arabia, against Iran-aligned Houthi rebels.

Government officials told The Associated Press that the separatists are refusing to hand over Aden headquarters and the presidential palace. The separatist Southern Transitional Council insists instead on joint committees.

The government officials, in turn, blame the separatists for inciting “limited clashes” and looting. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

Addressing tribal leaders last week in the Yemen’s easternmost province of al-Mahra, Interior Minister Ahmed al-Maysari criticized the power-sharing agreement.

“Does it make sense for your neighbor to come and tell you what to do in your home? It is a tragedy,” he said.

The agreement dictates that both sides pull their forces and heavy weapons out of Aden, and says both Hadi’s forces and the separatists are under control of the the Saudi-led coalition. That effectively means that if Hadi were to return o Aden, he would only be protected by his presidential guard.

The infighting between Hadi’s force and the separatists exposed a rift in the alliance and threatened to further destabilize the Arab world's poorest country. Saudi Arabia brought the two sides to the negotiating table in Riyadh where they signed the agreement on Nov. 5.

Yemen’s civil war started when the rebel Houthis overran and captured the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north in 2014. The Saudi-led alliance joined the fray in March 2015, to push the Houthis back and restore Hadi to power.

The war has killed over 100,000 people, destroyed Yemen’s infrastructure, displaced millions, and pushed 30 million people to the brink of famine.

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Magdy reported from Cairo.