Yemen's internationally recognized government is weaker than ever after the takeover of Aden by southern separatists, who should however choose the negotiation to settle the crisis rather than a declaration of independence, according to analysts.
The government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi has accused the separatists of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) of having led a "coup" by seizing on Saturday the presidential palace and other key positions in the big city from the south, Aden.
"The Hadi government has been very weakened by the events in Aden and has now lost control of two capitals," said Elisabeth Kendall, researcher at Pembroke College, Oxford University.
Aden was declared the "temporary capital" of the government after the Houthi rebels seized Sanaa in a major offensive in northern Yemen in 2014.
"This is a blow to the credibility of the government of Mr. Hadi, who remains the internationally recognized president," said Peter Salisbury, an analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG).
A Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 to support the Hadi government against the Houthi rebels.
"President Hadi gives legal cover to the intervention of the coalition (...) and he delegitimates the control of the north-west by the Houthis," he says.
Farea al-Muslimi, associate expert at the Chatham House Institute, believes that Mr. Hadi, who has been exiled to Ryad, "is disconnected from the reality on the ground". The government is "crumbling like never before".
For this expert, "the STC has gained the upper hand militarily and now wants to make it a political reality".
- Dialogue or secession -
The STC, linked to the "Cordon de sécurité", a powerful force formed by the United Arab Emirates, is campaigning for southern Yemen to become an independent state as it was until 1990.
It is led by Aidarous al-Zoubaidi, who has close ties with Abu Dhabi. The former governor of Aden was fired in 2017 by Hadi.
If its vice president Hani ben Breik said his movement would refuse to "negotiate under threat," the JTS said it was open to talks proposed by Saudi Arabia.
As such, analysts believe that the separatists will opt for negotiations rather than a declaration of independence from the south.
"The pressure from the coalition (led by Ryad) will probably avoid a direct call for secession for the moment," said Kendall, who said "the immediate objective of the JTS is to be represented in peace talks and on the future shape of Yemen ".
But "the STC is in a position of strength, it is well funded and now has militia recruited in the south who are loyal to it, and it certainly has all the cards in hand in Aden," she adds.
- Sharing power? -
This analyst notes however that the presence of STC out of Aden is not very strong.
"There are several groups that support the secession of the south, but do not support the STC, and there are also several pockets in the former south that do not support secession at all."
"If the STC tries to exert an influence outside the immediate sphere of Aden, we could see a conflict erupt in the south," adds Elisabeth Kendall.
Mr. Muslimi excludes him, any partition in the immediate future. "If the partition takes place now, Saudi Arabia will be accused of dismantling Yemen, which would have a high price for the Saudis."
According to him, the creation of a state in the south is difficult at the moment.
"The JTS will face challenges (...) including security and the fight against terrorism," said the expert, referring to al-Qaeda and the group Islamic State (IS).
The separatists have already clashed with government forces in January 2018, accusing the government of corruption and allowing the Islamist party Al-Islah to influence its decisions.
According to Salisbury, negotiations could lead to a power-sharing agreement and STC representation in the cabinet in return for a government return to Aden.
"The JTS clearly intends to control all of southern Yemen and declare its independence in the long term, but in the short term, it is likely to enter into talks with the government."
But this government on Wednesday excluded any negotiations with the separatists without withdrawal of these positions conquered in Aden.
© 2019 AFP