The head of Yemen’s separatist movement said he was ready to take part in Saudi-brokered peace talks after clashes with pro-government forces killed dozens in second city Aden.
Southern Transitional Council (STC) leader Aidarus al-Zubaidi also said late Sunday that he was committed to a ceasefire in Aden, where the separatists have seized the presidential palace and army camps.
Last week’s fighting pitted the UAE-trained Security Belt Force dominated by fighters who back the STC — which seeks independence for south Yemen — against loyalist forces.
For the past five years both camps, backed by a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have been engaged in a war against Iran-aligned Huthi rebels.
Zubaidi, in a televised speech, said last week’s violence had been “provoked” by forces loyal to Riyadh-based Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
Separatist fighters were left with “only two options: either self-defence, or surrender and accepting the liquidation of our just cause,” Zubaidi said, according to an English translation of his comments posted on the STC website.
He claimed that loyalist forces wanted “to implement a plan based on the assassination of our leaders, and then to provoke our people and liquidate our presence”.
Yemen’s government has accused the STC and the UAE of staging a “coup” against it.
The amount of weapons and ammunition found with loyalist forces were “sufficient to fight the Iranian Huthi enemy on all fronts without coalition support for at least 12 months”, Zubaidi said.
But he voiced the “readiness” of separatists “to work responsibly with… Saudi Arabia in managing this crisis” and to “attend the meeting called by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia with full openness”.
“We renew our commitment to continue the ceasefire” which the coalition called for on Saturday, he added.
Both the Yemeni government and separatists said Sunday they backed Riyadh’s call for dialogue and a suspension of the fighting, which threatened to deepen the country’s humanitarian crisis.
There have been no reports of clashes since then.
Since the fighting flared on Thursday, around 40 people have been killed and 260 others wounded including civilians, according to the UN.