Yemen government begins indirect talks with STC

Yemeni government says it will only hold talks with the UAE over standoff in Aden because "we don't want to sit with the tools but with the owners of the tools."

DUBAI - Yemeni government officials have begun indirect talks with the United Arab Emirates-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) in the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah to end fighting in Aden and other southern provinces, a Yemeni official said on Wednesday.

Yemen's internationally recognised government had earlier on Wednesday ruled out direct talks with the STC who have seized key parts of the south, saying it will talk only with their main backer, the UAE.

"If there is to be a dialogue, it will be with the United Arab Emirates under the supervision of Saudi Arabia, taking into consideration the Emirates is the main factor in the conflict between us and them," Yemen's vice prime minister, Ahmed al-Maisari, said.

"There was not and there will not be any sit-down with the so-called Southern Transitional Council whatsoever," he said in a voice recording uploaded to the interior ministry's YouTube channel.

"We don't want to sit with the tools but with the owners of the tools."

Peace or war

"Indirect talks have started between the government and the STC via the Saudi side; the situation is very difficult and complicated but we hope to achieve some progress," a senior Yemeni official, who declined to be named, said on Wednesday.

A senior Emirati official said earlier that the Gulf state was confident that the Jeddah meeting would succeed.

"We are looking with confidence and optimism at the success of the Jeddah meeting between Yemen's government and the STC, and unity against the Huthi coup," Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a Twitter post.

Saudi Arabia had called for a summit in Jeddah to defuse the Aden stand-off. Aidarous al-Zubaidi, leader of the STC, and Yemeni government officials arrived there earlier this week.

Saudi Arabia has been struggling to preserve the coalition since Hadi's government and the STC turned on each other, straining Riyadh's alliance with the UAE.

The UAE has trained and supported southern fighters loyal to the STC, who have said they may seek an independent southern Yemen despite being a key pillar in a Saudi-led military coalition backing the government against Iran-aligned Huthi rebels.

In August, fighting between the STC and unionist supporters of the government opened a new front in the complex war, after the STC accused an Islamist party affiliated with the government of complicity in a Huthi missile attack that killed 36 Security Belt fighters.

The Security Belt Forces - the military wing of the STC - took control of the southern city of Aden, which has served as the government's base since it was ousted from the capital Sanaa by the Huthis in 2014-15.

"We will return to Aden whether through peace or war," Maisari said.

Terrorist militias

The rift has inflamed tensions between north and south Yemen, which were formerly separate countries. The STC is now demanding that southerners have a say in Yemen's future, insisting that Islamists and other "northerners" are removed from positions of power in the south.

The clashes between the STC fighters and government forces - who for years fought on the same side against the Huthis - have raised fears that the country could break apart entirely.

The Yemeni government has accused the UAE of launching air strikes against its troops in Aden, while the Emirates says it was acting in self-defence against "terrorist militias" threatening the Saudi-led coalition.

The coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 as the Huthi rebels closed in on Aden prompting Hadi to flee into Saudi exile.

The conflict has since killed tens of thousands of people - most of them civilians - and driven millions more to the brink of famine in what the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The Aden rift risks further hampering UN diplomatic efforts to bring an end to a war largely seen as a proxy struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional influence.