UAE withdraws its troops from Aden, hands control to Saudi Arabia

CAIRO (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday that its troops have left Yemen’s southern port of Aden and returned home, handing over control to Saudi Arabia which is leading an Arab military coalition engaged in Yemen.

FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Yemen's southern separatists stand on a billboard during a rally to show support to the United Arab Emirates amid a standoff with the Saudi-backed government, in the port city of Aden, Yemen, September 5, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman

The UAE, which had already in June scaled down its military presence in Yemen, would continue fighting “terrorist organizations” in southern provinces and other areas, the General Command of the Armed Forces said in a statement carried on state news agency WAM.

Sources had told Reuters that Emirati forces started pulling out from Aden earlier this month in a move seen as paving the way for a deal to end a power struggle between Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and southern separatists supported by the UAE.

Separatist forces are part of the Sunni Muslim alliance that intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Iran-aligned Houthis to try to restore the internationally recognized government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi that was ousted from power in the capital, Sanaa, in the north by the movement in late 2014.

But the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), which seeks self-rule in the south, turned on Hadi’s government in August and seized its interim seat in Aden, opening a new front in the multi-faceted war as it tried to extend its reach.

Under a preliminary Saudi-brokered pact, the separatists would be included in a new technocrat Cabinet and both sides’ forces placed under control of the Yemeni interior and defense ministries, sources familiar with the talks had said.

Riyadh has been trying to resolve the standoff to refocus the coalition on fighting the Houthis on its southern border.

Hadi’s government has asked Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia’s main coalition partner, to stop arming separatists while the UAE has said Hadi’s government is ineffective and distrusts Islamists with whom he is allied.

Resolving the power struggle in the south and easing Houthi-Saudi tensions would aid United Nations efforts to restart peace talks to end the more than four-year war, which has killed tens of thousands and pushed millions to the brink of famine.

The UAE drawdown earlier this year came as Western allies pressed for an end to the ruinous conflict that is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Reporting by Hesham Abdul Khalek in Cairo and Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Matthew Lewis