Commander of Aden's presidential forces says Emirati jets and armour helped separatist militia rout his men
ADEN, Yemen - The United Arab Emirates has been accused of actively supporting southern Yemeni separatists with air cover and heavy armour as they seized Aden from forces loyal to the Saudi-backed government of President Abd Rabbuh Hadi.
The accusations, if true, would throw into question motivations inside the Saudi-led coalition backing Hadi, which includes the UAE, and its ability - or desire - to support him as his country's legitimate leader.
A third day of fighting on Tuesday ended with the "Security Belt" - the UAE-backed armed wing of the breakaway Southern Transitional Council (STC) - controlling all public institutions in Aden, and the capitulation of the Fourth Brigade of the Presidential Guard, the last remaining Hadi force in the city.
The remnants of the Hadi government, including the prime minister, Ahmed Obaid Bin Daghar, found themselves surrounded and besieged in the city's hilltop presidential palace.
Emirati forces took part in the overthrow of the Fourth Brigade
- Mahran Qubati, Fourth Brigade commander
The accusations of UAE support came from the commander of the Fourth Brigade, Mahran Qubati, who escaped an assault on his base on Wednesday.
He told the Belqees television network: "Emirati armour and forces took part in the overthrow of the Fourth Brigade. Saudi officials promised to return the camp to its leadership in the next hours."
The comments were in addition to those on Tuesday, where he said Security Belt forces had used Emirati armoured vehicles to storm Aden's public institutions, "while the Emirati warplanes were hovering over our military camps".
Southern Yemeni separatists stand by a tank in the port city of Aden (Reuters)
An unnamed source in the Hadi government in Aden told Middle East Eye that the Security Belt forces were under direct supervision of the UAE as they stormed the Fourth Brigade's base.
The source said the Security Belt had surrounded the presidential palace, which was under the protection of Saudi Arabian forces.
"The separatists burnt the house of Qubati but he was not there and is in a safe place in Aden.
"The battle has not finished yet and the prime minister, and other ministers, are in the palace in Aden under the protection of Saudi forces."
He vowed Hadi loyalists would retake what they had lost.
"Military reinforcements will arrive from the coast and other areas to support the government and will recapture the public institutions and military camps from separatists."
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But the bitter nature of the fighting and its apparent swift resolution have yet again shed light on the ever-shifting loyalties of those involved in the war in Yemen.
Both the Security Belt and the Presidential Guard are enemies of the Houthi movement, which itself seized the capital Sanaa after kicking out Hadi loyalists and besieging many of his officials in 2015.
Hadi has since led his government in exile in Saudi Arabia.
But the anti-Houthi alliance has never been stable; separatists agitating for an independent South Yemen have never been anything more than convenient allies for a government committed to a unified state.
The Southern Transitional Council was created in May after its current leader, Aidarous al-Zabidi, was sacked by Hadi from his position as a governor of Aden.
Hadi, here with Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, has just lost his only power base in Yemen (AFP)
It appears the separatists are now in the ascendancy. Their supporters celebrated with firework displays on Tuesday evening, believing Hadi's government was finished and independence was close.
Osaid al-Yafei, a field commander of the Security Belt in Aden, told MEE: "We control the whole city of Aden, including the public institutions and ports and in the next few hours we will liberate the presidential palace from the rest of the soldiers," Yafei told MEE.
Yafie confirmed that the STC is not against Hadi but against the government, which is corrupt and did not help southern people but rather aggravated their suffering.
"The corruption of the government forced us on to the streets," he said.
The Security Belt can storm the palace in a matter of hours but they avoid fighting the Saudi forces
- Nashwan al-Dhobiani, journalist
"We ended the regime of Bin Daghar and will begin to build our own government.
"The southern forces saved the public institutions, including the Central Bank, but we did not storm it as we are not thieves. We are guardians of the public institutions."
Nashwan al-Dhobiani, a journalist in Aden, told MEE: "Military reinforcements of the Southern Transitional Council have arrived in Aden.
"Presidential forces have no reinforcements - the council controls the city."
He said the Security Belt had control of the main gate of Aden's presidential palace but were holding back from entering due to the presence of Saudi forces inside.
"The Security Belt can storm the palace in a matter of hours but they avoid fighting the Saudi forces," he said.
"The southern forces are waiting for a political solution to the standoff."
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.