THE “civil war within a civil war” that has manifested itself in the port city of Aden between separatist forces and troops loyal to the Yemeni government is not unexpected, the Archdeacon in the Gulf, the Ven. Bill Schwartz, has said.
A fortnight ago, the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council seized control of military camps and the presidential palace in Aden after days of fighting. The opposing Saudi-led coalition has threatened to bomb separatists in retaliation.
Dr Schwartz said: “The various issues between separatists and [President Hadi’s] government are not new, and this recent flare-up of violence is also not completely unexpected after the UAE pull-out. There have been casualties among the fighters, and, as far as I know, one civilian [was] killed by a stray bullet.
“There is no real count presented of casualties that have not resulted in death.”
Tens of thousands of people, including thousands of civilians, have been killed in Yemen since the civil war between Houthi rebels and government forces supported by a Saudi-led coalition began in 2015, the United Nations estimates. The war has displaced more than three million people, and 80 per cent of the population need humanitarian assistance.
Dr Schwartz wrote in a letter to his community this month: “I can confirm that all of our people are safe, and that things are peaceful. The two sides agreed to a ceasefire for a week during the Eid.
“There is hope that some kind of a new balance will be recognised during that time, but the real issue is that the separatists are now prominent and in control in Aden, which is supposed to be the functional capital of the country and operating base of the Hadi government. We all know that the operating base is really in Riyadh, and the Saudis have threatened to bomb separatists.”
This level of violence had become the norm in Yemen, he said. “[Sheikh] Mansour seems relaxed about the situation. Personally, I think that has a lot to do with the fact that he and everyone in Aden are accustomed to violence on that scale as some kind of normal. At the same time, they are well-schooled in managing their movements and lives in accordance with these kinds of civil disruption. Thankfully, the separatists have not located any of their focus in the Tawahi area.”
He was dubious whether the separatists had a “political infrastructure” for running Aden and surrounding areas, “but they seem to have enough of a military infrastructure to have gathered a number of the militias in a common cause. We can only wait and pray as things develop.”
Last week, the World Food Programme (WFP) said that food distribution was set to resume to 850,000 people in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, after “guarantees” from Houthi opposition forces that the supplies would reach people most in need.
The WFP said that humanitarian agencies had for the past two months been denied access to the capital and that local authorities had been interfering with deliveries. Access would be granted after the festival of Eid, a spokesman said.
“The Houthis have been engaging with us in the last few weeks to negotiate the document that we have signed together, and, more importantly, to also agree on the technical terms.”