AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s internationally recognized government has ordered the army to expel separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) forces from the temporary Yemeni capital Aden and neighboring provinces in the south, after the council refused to revoke its controversial self-rule declaration.
In a statement, Yemen’s Foreign Ministry said the army would halt its offensive on Aden if the STC immediately implemented the Riyadh Agreement signed last year.
“The responsibility of a national army is to defend its homeland, to protect its security and territorial integrity, to confront every armed rebellion and to restore any undermined government institutions and their legitimate authority.
“The STC must comply and implement the Riyadh Agreement and refrain from exercising their call for self-rule; otherwise, they will bear responsibility for everything that will follow as a result of their continued insurrection,” the statement added.
On Tuesday, the army announced it had seized control of a military camp for separatists on the outskirts of Zinijbar, the capital of Abyan province. A local pro-government military commander, who wished to remain anonymous, told Arab News that 17 military vehicles and ammunition were found at the camp.
He added that two soldiers were killed in the fighting and that army troops were having to overcome landmines as they battled separatists in Abyan’s Sheikh Salem region. The separatists had built dunes of sand, erected barricades, dug trenches and deployed heavy firepower to obstruct the army’s push, he said.
STC media outlets said on Tuesday that their forces had engaged in heavy fighting with government troops in Sheikh Salem, destroying a number of vehicles and capturing several soldiers.
Nearby residents fear an escalation of fighting to heavily populated towns could force people to flee to Al-Mukalla or Aden, two of Yemen’s cities worst-hit by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. “We are so worried. Explosions are huge as both sides are using heavy weapons,” a resident of the Abyan town of Shouqra told Arab News.
Fighting also broke out on Monday and Tuesday in the central province of Al-Bayda and Marib’s Serwah district where army troops pushed back Houthi attacks.
On Monday, officials reported five new COVID-19 cases in the southeastern Yemeni province of Hadramout, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in government-controlled areas of the country to 56, including nine deaths.
The UN has called for warring factions in Yemen to agree a truce to allow health workers to fight the COVID-19 outbreak.