Talks to end a violent power struggle in southern Yemen have stalled and both sides appear to be preparing to resume fighting, officials said on Friday, suggesting more turmoil lies ahead on a new battlefront that risks further fragmenting Yemen.
Saudi Arabia, leader of an Arab coalition battling Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthis, is hosting indirect talks to resolve the crisis between UAE-backed separatist rebels and the Saudi-backed government amid a rift between Riyadh and its ally Abu Dhabi.
The war for the south between the two nominal allies in the coalition is threatening to complicate UN efforts to end the multi-tiered war, which contains conflicts within conflicts.
Saudi Arabia called on the separatists, who seek to revive the former South Yemen republic, to cede control of Aden and voiced its support for President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi's government on Thursday, threatening "to react decisively."
Two Yemeni officials said the Saudi statement came after the talks, in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, reached a dead-end and both sides were gathering troops to prepare for further battle.
Leaders of the Southern Transitional Council (or STC), backed by Abu Dhabi, rejected the inclusion of their forces under the authority of the Saudi-backed government, they said.
The STC has tens of thousands of fighters armed and trained by UAE's armed forces.
"The situation is headed towards war, so be ready people of the south... Talks have failed, war is declared," the STC’s Security Belt forces said in a Twitter post early on Friday.
The talks also stalled over the separatists' role in the government, after the separatists asked for the vice-president position along with two major ministries.
Yemen's current vice-president is Ali Mohsen al Ahmar, a politically powerful army general allied with Hadi.
Riyadh warns separatist rebels
On Thursday, Riyadh had called on separatist rebels to cede control of Aden and voiced its support for the government, an indication that its rift with close ally UAE has deepened.
In a statement, it said the kingdom refuses any "new reality" imposed by force in the south and added any attempt to destabilise Yemen's security would be a threat against the Kingdom and "will be dealt with decisively."
The breakaway movement is part of the coalition that intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to try to restore Hadi's government, which was ousted from power by the Houthis in the capital Sanaa in late 2014.
Saudi and UAE proxies in Yemen
The militants seek independence and turned on the government in early August and captured Aden, their interim base.
On Thursday, they organised a rally in Aden where thousands of Yemenis gathered in support of the UAE, which backs rebels who seized the southern city from the Saudi-backed government in a power struggle that has strained Riyadh's alliance with its main regional partner, the UAE.
March organisers said they wanted to show loyalty to the UAE, the second power in the coalition, which openly intervened to support the rebels by launching air strikes on government forces last week when they tried to recapture Aden, forcing them to withdraw.
Men, women, and children gathered in Aden's main Al Maalla street, waved Emirati flags and colours of the former South Yemen republic, which the militants of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) aspire to revive.
"This is the least we can do for the UAE, which has given everything to the people of South Yemen," said Hashem al Morshidi, one of the demonstrators.
Others carried banners expressing loyalty to the UAE or portraits of Abu Dhabi's leaders as large speakers blared Emirati music.
Hadi's government has publicly asked the UAE to stop supporting the separatist forces. Abu Dhabi has responded by criticising his government as weak and ineffective.
The UAE in June scaled down its military presence in Yemen but maintains influence via tens of thousands of southern fighters it has armed and trained.