Timeline: History of separatism in southern Yemen

What led separatists in southern Yemen to announce self-rule? Here is brief history of separatism in the region.

Aden story
President Hadi's government accused the UAE-backed southern Yemeni separatist forces of backing a 'coup' [File: Fawaz Salman [Reuters]

A Yemeni separatist group, Southern Transitional Council (STC), on Sunday declared self-rule in the war-torn country’s south.

Long-held aspirations for autonomy in southern Yemen erupted into a deadly conflict between United Arab Emirates-backed separatists and pro-government forces in 2017-18 and again in August last year, complicating Yemen’s wider war.


The internationally-recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has condemned the move, saying its outcome will be “catastrophic and dangerous”.

All this as a Saudi-UAE coalition battles Houthi rebels in a separate conflict.

Here is a recap of tensions in the south:

Independence, unification

South Yemen was an independent country from the 1967 British withdrawal – after which it went on to become a Soviet-backed communist one-party state – until it united with the north in 1990.

An attempt to break away again in 1994 sparked a short-lived civil war that ended with it being overrun by northern troops.

2015: Government moves to Aden

Houthi rebels complete their takeover of Yemen’s capital Sanaa in early 2015, forcing the government of President Hadi to relocate to the second city, Aden, in the south.

Saudi Arabia creates a military coalition to prop up Hadi’s forces.

Aden is declared Yemen’s de facto capital.

2017: Southern ‘authority’ launched

In April 2017, Hadi sacks Aden governor Aidarous al-Zubaidi, who had a history of favouring autonomy for the formerly independent south.

Thousands of Aden residents demonstrate.

In an open challenge to Hadi, Zubaidi in May launches a self-proclaimed parallel authority to manage the southern provinces, the STC.

2018: Aden palace siege

In January 2018, a separatist force dominated by STC supporters seizes almost all of Aden and surrounds the presidential palace.

That sparks three days of clashes in which 38 people are killed.

The group, called the Security Belt Forces, is backed by the UAE, a key member of the Saudi-led coalition aiding Hadi against the Houthi rebellion.

After coalition mediation, the separatists lift the siege of Aden.

2019: Clashes erupt 

New clashes flare between Security Belt and pro-government forces in Aden in August 2019.

The separatists gain ground across the city, saying they have seized the presidential palace.

Four days of fighting leave 40 dead and 260 wounded, according to the United Nations.

Hadi’s government accuses the UAE of backing a “coup”. Abu Dhabi denies the charge. 

STC supporters vacate some public buildings in Aden but keep hold of military positions after Saudi and the UAE send in a delegation.

Separatists in control

Hadi’s forces enter Aden in late August and announce they are in “full control”, including of the presidential palace, but are forced to withdraw the next day as the separatists retake the city.

Yemen’s government accuses the UAE of launching air strikes against its troops in support of separatist fighters, reportedly leaving dozens dead.

The UAE confirms the strikes, but says it had targeted “terrorist militias” in self-defence.            

Saudi warning, talks

In September Saudi Arabia demands separatists return captured military and civilian facilities, warning that otherwise they will be “dealt with firmly”.

The kingdom calls for dialogue but insists there is “no alternative to the legitimate government”.

Yemen’s government publicly rules out talks at first, but it emerges on October 7 that the two sides are holding indirect negotiations under Saudi mediation.

Deal unravels 

On October 14, the UAE hands over to Saudi forces key positions in Aden, including an airbase and the international airport, in a bid to defuse tensions between separatists and the government.

On October 25, sources from both sides announce they have struck a power-sharing deal.

The accord is signed in Riyadh on November 5, reportedly handing the STC a number of government ministries and allowing the government to return to Aden.

But that deal quickly unravels, as deadlines for forming a new cabinet with equal representation for southerners and the reorganisation of military forces pass without implementation.

Early on April 26, 2020, the STC declares self-rule for the south, effective retroactively from midnight.

“A self-governing committee will start its work according to a list of tasks assigned by the council’s presidency,” it says.

Source: News Agencies