SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen’s embattled president, in exile in Saudi Arabia, announced a Cabinet reshuffle Friday in a major step toward closing a dangerous rift between his internationally recognized government and southern separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates.
President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s decree said the incumbent prime minister, Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, would keep his job while 24 ministerial posts would have almost equal representation of both northerners and southerners, according to the country’s state-run SABA news agency.
The reshuffle included women, for the first time since the 1990s.
Defense Minister Mohammed al-Maqdishi and Finance Minister Salem Saleh Bin Braik kept their jobs in the new government. Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak, who was Yemen’s ambassador to the U.S., was named foreign minister, replacing Mohammed Abdullah al-Hadrami, who was critical of the UAE.
The U.N. special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, welcomed the reshuffle as “a pivotal step towards a lasting political resolution to the conflict in Yemen.”
Naming a new government was part of a power-sharing deal between the Saudi-backed Hadi and the Emirati-backed separatist Southern Transitional Council, an umbrella group of militias seeking to restore an independent southern Yemen, which existed from 1967 until unification in 1990.
The STC had been the on-the-ground allies of the UAE, once Saudi Arabia’s main partner in the war that subsequently withdrew from the conflict. The secessionist group declared self-rule over the key port city of Aden and other southern provinces in April, before it abandoned its aspirations for self-rule late in July to implement the peace agreement with Hadi’s government.
The power-sharing deal, inked in the Saudi capital of Riyadh last year, was meant to end months of infighting between what are nominal allies in Yemen’s civil war that pits a Saudi -backed coalition, of which the UAE is a part, against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
The deal also called for the appointment of a new governor and security director for the port city of Aden, the seat of Hadi’s government since the Houthis took over the capital, Sanaa in 2014. The following year, the Saudi-led coalition, determined to restore Hadi’s government to power, launched a military intervention.
The power-sharing deal also included the withdrawal of rival forces from Aden and the flashpoint southern province of Abyan. The Saudi-led coalition said that was completed earlier this week.