Yemen Slides Toward Breakup as Hadi Rallies Support in South

Yemen’s President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi sought to rally supporters in the south after fleeing the capital Sana’a, which is under the control of Houthi rebels, as conflict threatens to split the impoverished nation in two.

Hadi called on the internationally recognized government to relocate from Sana’a to Aden on the southern coast, Majed al-Saqqaf, his press secretary, said by phone. The Shiite militia on Tuesday said Hadi, who’s backed by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, has no legitimacy and warned that those following his orders will be held accountable.

The standoff has raised the prospect of Yemen disintegrating like Libya, where two rival governments and their militias are fighting for control of cities, airports and oil fields. The conflict has exposed regional tensions between Saudi Arabia, which supports the predominantly Sunni forces of the government, and Iran, where officials have talked warmly of the Houthis, who follow the Zaydi branch of Shiite Islam.

Fighting broke out late on Tuesday between the Houthis and special forces from Yemen’s army in the east of Sana’a, as the rebels sought to seize an arms depot, the independent news website al-Masdar said.

‘Twisted Replay’

“The Houthi takeover in some parts of Yemen is already fact,” said Paul Sullivan, a Middle East specialist at Georgetown University in Washington. “Yemen is in the midst of what seems like a twisted replay of its previous regional civil wars but with the geo-strategic and geo-economic risks being far greater now than, let’s say, the early 1990s.”

Following unification in 1990, civil war engulfed Yemen as the south tried to break away before being defeated by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forces. Protests against Saleh’s 20-year rule saw Hadi installed as part of a U.S. and Saudi-backed accord in 2012. He has struggled to exert authority over much of the country amid challenges by the Houthis, political protesters and Islamist militants.

After fleeing Sana’a on Saturday, Hadi said decisions and appointments made after the rebels seized the capital in September were not valid. He encouraged his allies to regroup in Aden.

The Houthis warned ministers they would be prosecuted if they stopped working, al-Masirah television, which is allied with the group, reported. At least two senior politicians from the Islamist Islah party, including a minister, have been detained by Houthis en route from Sana’a, according to the party’s website. Mohammed Kahtan, who leads Islah’s delegation in UN-brokered talks to the end the conflict, was seized by Houthi gunmen outside the city of Ibb, the party said.

Proxy War

The Revolutionary Committee set up by the Houthis to run the country said that Hadi is under investigation by prosecutors and faces charges in a number of cases, without giving details, according to the official news agency Saba.

The United Nations Security Council this month unanimously adopted a resolution demanding that the Houthis relinquish their arms and control of the government. The rebels should engage in talks on a peaceful political transition to be brokered by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special adviser, Jamal Benomar, the council said. Benomar has warned that a power vacuum may trigger a sectarian proxy war in Yemen.

(A earlier version of story was corrected to show politicians were seized en route from Sana’a.)

(Updates with details of kidnapping in eighth paragraph.)
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