The United Arab Emirates said its troops left Yemen’s southern port Aden and returned home, handing control to Saudi Arabia which is leading an Arab military coalition engaged in Yemen.
The UAE, which in June scaled down its military presence in Yemen, would continue fighting “terrorist organisations” in southern provinces and other areas, the General Command of the Armed Forces said in a statement state news agency WAM.
Sources told Reuters Emirati forces started pulling out of Aden earlier this month in a move seen as paving the way for a deal to end a power struggle between Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and southern separatists supported by the UAE.
Separatist forces are part of the Sunni Muslim alliance that intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Iran-aligned Houthis to restore the internationally recognised government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi ousted in Sanaa by the movement in late 2014.
The separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), which seeks self-rule in the south, turned on Hadi’s government in August and seized its interim seat in Aden, opening a new front in the multi-faceted war as it tried to extend its reach.
Under a preliminary Saudi-brokered pact, the separatists would be included in a new technocrat Cabinet and both sides’ forces placed under control of the Yemeni interior and defence ministries, sources familiar with the talks said.
Riyadh has been trying to resolve the stand-off to refocus the coalition on fighting the Houthis on its southern border.
Hadi’s government asked Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia’s main coalition partner, to stop arming separatists while the UAE said Hadi’s government is ineffective and distrusts Islamists with who he is allied.
Resolving the power struggle in the south and easing Houthi-Saudi tensions would aid United Nations efforts to restart peace talks to end the more than four-year war, which killed tens of thousands and pushed millions to the brink of famine.
The UAE drawdown earlier this year came as Western allies pressed for an end to the ruinous conflict widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.