Yemeni government troops defect to Southern Transitional Council

After Yemeni officials gave defectors on the island of Socotra 24 hours to rejoin the government’s ranks “or else”, the Yemeni Army reportedly dismissed the defectors from its ranks.

LONDON - Despite being on the same side in the war against the Iran-allied Houthi rebels, the internationally recognised government of Yemen and the Southern Transitional Council appear headed for another confrontation.

The dispute stems from a government military battalion on the island of Socotra defecting to the Southern Transitional Council (STC). A military source told Al-Masdar News that the 1st Infantry Brigade's Coastal Protection Battalion in Socotra pledged allegiance to the STC.

“Officers in the battalion loyal to the United Arab Emirates who had overthrown the battalion's leadership after a UAE emissary and STC leaders in Socotra promised them better wages, equal to those of the UAE-backed Security Belt forces,” the source was quoted as saying.

Socotra Mayor Ramzi Mahrous gave the defectors 24 hours to rejoin the government’s ranks “or else.”

Describing the development as a "dangerous precedent," Mahrous said, in a February 3 posting on Facebook, that the state would not stand idly by amid such a "heinous act, which seeks to sow strife and division."

After the deadline, the Yemeni Army reportedly dismissed the defectors from its ranks.

Friction between the Yemeni government and the STC, which occasionally resulted in violence, escalated significantly in August. Fighting between the groups resulted in STC troops taking control of government positions in the temporary capital Aden.

Intervention by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi convinced both sides to reach a peace deal in November.

The agreement called for the formation of a new government within 30 days of its signing, to be made up of 24 ministers, 12 from the south and 12 from the north. It would have also placed tens of thousands of STC fighters under the command of Yemen’s interior and defence ministries. However, the deadline for the government's formation expired with renewed hostilities.

Another agreement was signed in January, which led to a prisoner exchange.

A report in late January by the SAM for Rights and Liberties, a human rights organisation, claimed the STC set up a checkpoint at the entrance of the provincial capital Zinjibar and turned back 200 people, including women and children, some of whom were wounded or disabled and were seeking medical treatment.

A Saudi delegation arranged to meet with Security Belt forces said to be preventing civilians from northern provinces from entering.

For decades, Southern Yemenis have said they were exploited by leaders in the north. The anti-government sentiment led to the formation of the Southern Mobility Movement in 2007, which has the re-establishment of South Yemen as an independent state as its main goal.

STC President Aidarus al-Zoubaidi and Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi also have a history of bad blood, stemming from May 2017 when Hadi sacked Zoubaidi as Aden governor, which led to Zoubaidi joining forces with southern fighters who eventually rebranded themselves as the STC.

Mohammed Alkhereiji is the Gulf section editor for The Arab Weekly, where this article was originally published.