Yemen in Focus: Saudi-Emirati allies reunite after deadly Aden fallout

Yemen in Focus: Saudi-Emirati allies reunite after deadly Aden fallout
This week we look at an end to Saudi-Emirati infighting in Aden, a risky prisoner transfer in Sanaa and pending cargo in Hodeida.
6 min read
15 October, 2019
Infighting between the allies caused a number of fatalities [Getty]
After months of infighting, Saudi and Emirati allies have seemingly come to an understanding in the south of Yemen.

The UAE on Monday handed key positions in Yemen's southern city of Aden to Saudi forces 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 the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels.

The STC security force said the UAE "has withdrawn" from the Al-Anad airbase "and handed them over to Saudi troops".

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

The development on Monday came after Yemeni witnesses last week said more Emirati troops have been pulled out of Yemen's southern port city of Aden.

An Emirati convoy boarded a military ship at Buraiqa oil terminal near the Aden refinery, two officials told Reuters, while four refinery employees said they witnessed a large convoy of military vehicles and three buses carrying approximately 200 troops towards the terminal.

The two sides have for weeks taken part in indirect and discreet talks in Saudi Arabia's western city of Jeddah with the kingdom's mediation, an official from the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) told AFP

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

A Yemeni government source confirmed that talks between the two parties have been ongoing.

If reports are true, it could prove to be a welcome move for both sides after gruelling fighting over recent months brought the allies to breaking point.

The STC have fought alongside the Saudi-led alliance since its intervention in 2015 in support of the government of President AbedRabbo Mansour Hadi which was toppled in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014 by the Houthis.

Comment: Saudi Arabia, UAE have lost the plot in Yemen, but it's good news for Russia

In August, the STC, who demand self-rule in Yemen’s south, rebelled against the government and seized parts of Aden, sparking a further civil war within the already complex conflict.

Since the uprising, deadly fighting has raged in Aden, Yemen's economic capital, threatening to break the country apart.

Up north in the Houthi-controlled capital, the rebel group transferred 400 abductees from the central prison in Sanaa to the Central Security Camp, according to rights group, the Association of Mothers of Abductees.

The prisoners, who left in uniforms, were allegedly told they would be released from the institute before being taken to the camp.

The move concerned the rights group which noted the camp is subjected to occasional raids by the Saudi-led coalition battling Houthis in the country, according to Yemen Monitor.

"The transfer puts the life of the abductees at risk," the group said.

“We have previously lost dozens of of our abducted children detained at the facility,” it added, urging the Red Cross, UN and rights organisations to intervene in the case.

Figures show more than 16,000 journalists, academics, politicians and activists have been abducted and detained by the Houthis in more than 480 rebel-controlled prisons.

A report by Rights Radar entitled Yemen: Victims Behind Bars said the number of people abducted and detained by the Houthis "is estimated at 16,804 detainees".

More than 200 children are also said to be detained by the Houthis as international human rights organisations continue to accuse the rebel group of recruiting child soldiers across the country.

Ten ships enter Hodeida

Yemen’s government on Sunday announced it had approved entry for 10 ships loaded with oil derivatives into the port of Hodeida.

The government’s initiative to allow ships to ender and unload cargo “comes from its keenness to accelerate the introduction of fuel shipments to Hodeida in a bid to alleviate the suffering of citizens and improve the humanitarian situation in Houthi areas,” a foreign ministry statement said on Sunday.

Yemen’s internationally-recognised government also called on the United Nations to play its role and assume responsibility in controlling funds stored at the Central Bank of Yemen’s Hodeida branch, including tax and customs paid by the ten ships, to ensure the funds are used to pay civilian salaries in the country.

United Nations agencies operating in Yemen have been rocked by a corruption scandal as more than a dozen aid workers deployed to deal with the humanitarian crisis caused by a five-year civil war have been accused of embezzlement and malpractice.

The Associated Press obtained internal investigative documents revealing allegations that unqualified people were placed in high-paying jobs, hundreds of thousands of dollars were deposited in staffers' personal bank accounts, dozens of suspicious contracts were approved without the proper paperwork, and tons of donated medicine and fuel went missing.

Internal auditors from the World Health Organisation (WHO) are investigating the allegations.

A second probe by another UN agency, UNICEF, focuses on a staffer who allowed a Houthi rebel leader to travel in agency vehicles, shielding him from potential airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition.

The individuals who spoke to the AP about the investigations did so on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals.

The main focus of WHO's investigation into its Yemen operations is Nevio Zagaria, an Italian doctor, who was chief of the agency's Sanaa office from 2016 until September 2018, according to three individuals with direct knowledge of the investigation.

The only public announcement of the probe came in a sentence buried in the 37 pages of the internal auditor's 2018 annual report of activities worldwide. The report did not mention Zagaria by name.

'Incompetent staff'

The report, released 1 May found that financial and administrative controls in the Yemen office were "unsatisfactory" - its lowest rating - and noted hiring irregularities, no-competition contracts and lack of monitoring over procurement.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic confirmed to the AP that the investigation is underway. He said Zagaria retired in September 2018, but he would not confirm or deny that Zagaria specifically was under investigation.

"The Office of Internal Oversight Services is currently investigating all concerns raised," he said. "We must respect the confidentiality of this process and are unable go into details on specific concerns."

Four current and former workers said the WHO's Yemen office under Zagaria was riddled with corruption and nepotism.

"Incompetent staff with heavy salaries" undermined the quality of work and monitoring of projects and created "many loopholes for corruption", a former aid official said.

Meanwhile, a confidential report by a UN panel of experts on Yemen, obtained by the AP, said Houthi authorities constantly pressure aid agencies, forcing them to hire loyalists, intimidating them with threats to revoke visas and aiming to control their movements and project implementation.

An official said the UN's inability or unwillingness to address the alleged corruption in its aid programs harms the agency's efforts to help Yemenis affected by the war.

"This is scandalous to any agency and ruins the impartiality of UN," the aid official said.

Sana Uqba is a journalist at The New Arab. 

Follow her on Twitter: @Sanasiino 

Yemen In Focus is a new, regular feature from The New Arab.

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