The United Arab Emirates pulled some of its troops from Yemen after a breakthrough in peace talks between the internationally recognized government and southern separatist fighters, according to a Yemeni official.
Recent battles between pro-government forces and the separatists threatened to fracture the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that includes both. It’s been fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels who have controlled the capital for more than four years.
Emirati soldiers and Sudanese troops under U.A.E. command withdrew from the southern port city of Aden and the Al-Anad military air base in Lahj province, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. A spokesman for Sudan’s Foreign Ministry said he wasn’t aware of any withdrawal.
The draw-down follows progress at Saudi-sponsored indirect talks in Jeddah between the administration of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who’s supported by Saudi Arabia, and the separatist Southern Transitional Council that’s backed by the U.A.E.
The two sides have agreed that Hadi, Yemen’s parliament and government will return to Aden. That would be followed by the formation of a new administration to include STC members as well as the integration of separatist fighters into the Yemeni security forces, the official said, adding that talks are in the final stage.
Calls and emails to the U.A.E. Foreign Ministry weren’t returned. An STC spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. launched their military campaign in 2015 after the Houthis took control of the Yemeni capital Sana’a and ousted Hadi. But in August, deadly clashes between their local allies saw the separatists win control of Aden, as well as part of Abyan and Lahj.
To seal a truce, Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s deputy defense minister, flew to Abu Dhabi to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Separately, Sudanese officials, including Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of the country’s transitional council, as well as Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, visited the U.A.E. on Tuesday and met with the crown prince.
Anwar Gargash, the U.A.E. minister of state for foreign affairs, on Oct. 6 said on Twitter that his country “appreciates and fully supports” the Jeddah talks and Saudi efforts to unite Yemenis against the Houthis.
Giorgio Cafiero, chief executive officer of Gulf State Analytics, a Washington-based consultancy, said any deal would face significant obstacles.
It would require “some sort of acceptance of the role of Al Islah on the part of the separatists as well as assurances from Saudi Arabia to convince the STC to share power with the group,” he said. Al Islah, a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate that the U.A.E. classifies as a terrorist organization, is in a loose alliance with Hadi.
The U.A.E. had earlier signaled it intended to withdraw most of its forces from Yemen by the end of the year as the conflict there threatened to pitch the region into a wider war with Iran.
Devastating attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure last month highlighted the danger the conflict posed to regional stability. The strikes were claimed by the Houthis but many observers saw the hand of Iran, which is pushing back against a U.S.-led economic offensive to weaken the Islamic Republic.
The U.S. has begun efforts to find a negotiated settlement to the war in Yemen, which triggered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.