South and North Yemen look set to be divided again after almost three decades in a move supported and bankrolled by the UAE.
Many in the southern city of Aden have replaced the unified country’s flag with the country’s former communist flag, while many government buildings in the south are adorned with pictures of Emirati officials instead of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi who fled the country and now resides in Saudi Arabia.
UAE troops are working alongside Yemeni forces and are on duty to protect government buildings and institutions.
The UAE-backed independence bid is being spearheaded by Aidarous al-Zubaidi – known by many as the UAE’s ‘man in the south’ and leader of the southern secessionist movement.
Al-Zubaidi is a former militia leader and is seen by many as a credible alternative to the country’s current leader.
On Friday he announced the formation of a new 303-member parliament and said that an independence referendum will be held soon.
Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Mansoor Saleh, a senior member of Zubaidi’s Southern Transitional Council (STC) said: “The only way to restore our country [south Yemen] is through liberation.”
“A referendum will be held on terms set by the STC. Hadi is a partner to us, just like the Arab coalition. But he has never supported the STC and is not playing any role in this process,” he added.
However, officials within the current presidency said that any independence bid would be stopped.
One said: “The referendum was announced shortly after events in Spain’s Catalonia region and Kurdistan, and we believe [Zubaidi’s announcement] was a reactionary move – we think it’s unlikely it’ll go ahead.”
Zubaidi rose in popularity in late 2015 after helping purge northern Houthi fighters from Aden.
He was later dismissed along with Hani Ali bin Braik, a former minister of state, after reports of the succession campaign,
Hadi later accused Abu Dhabi crown prince Mohammed Bin Zayed of behaving like an “occupying power rather than a force of liberation.”