Yemen’s government and southern separatist forces have agreed on a ceasefire and will begin talks in Saudi Arabia on implementing a peace deal, the kingdom’s ambassador to Yemen has announced.
Both sides agreed to a ceasefire in Abyan province and the de-escalation of tensions in other regions, Mohammed al-Jaber said in a Twitter post on Monday.
The self-styled Southern Transitional Council (STC) and the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi also agreed to start talks on implementing a Riyadh agreement involving committees from both sides, according to the ambassador.
Tensions between the two former allies in Yemen’s long-running war have grown since April, when the STC unilaterally announced self-rule in areas under its control in Yemen.
The STC fighters were the on-the-ground allies of the UAE, once Saudi Arabia’s main coalition partner in its military campaign against the Houthi rebels, who control vast swaths of territory in Yemen’s north.
Friction escalated on Saturday after forces loyal to the STC assumed control of the strategically located island of Socotra.
The STC, which raises the flag of the former communist state in the south and has pushed to again split the war-torn country in two, seized several state buildings, including the governor’s headquarters.
The internationally recognised government accused the STC of staging “a full-fledged coup” in Socotra, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The fighting threatens to cause irreversible damage to the island, which has rare dragon blood trees, plant species, spices and marine life, many of which are found nowhere else.
“There might be a new dynamic developing. It certainty looks like there are signs that Saudi Arabia is tiring of the war in Yemen,” said Elisabeth Kendall, a senior fellow at Pembroke College, Oxford University,
“[The war] hasn’t been working for five years. It’s very expensive and a virus is spreading so it could be that it is now recognising the STC as a genuine military as well as administrative presence on the ground in the south and is therefore stepping over the head of the Hadi government in order to broker some kind of deal which allows it to step back a little.”
The STC turned on Hadi in August last year and took control of Aden, the internationally-recognised government’s temporary seat. The fighting stopped when the two groups reached a deal in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, with the objective of forming a unity government, but clashes continued in the ensuing months.
Yemen’s south was an independent state until the 1990 unification with the north.
The country’s latest conflict broke out in late 2014 when the Houthis seized much of the country and removed Hadi’s government from the capital, Sanaa.
Fighting escalated in March 2015 when the Saudi-UAE-led military alliance launched a fierce air campaign against the rebels in a bid to restore Hadi’s government.
Since then, the war has killed more than an estimated 100,000 people and displaced millions, pushing the impoverished country to the verge of famine and gutting its infrastructure.
Al Jazeera and news agencies