Dubai: The Al Houthi militia and its allies on Monday formed a new government in Yemen, a surprise move that was condemned by their rivals and the United States and complicated United Nations efforts to end a conflict that has ravaged the Arab world’s poorest country for much of the past two years.
Announcement of the 42-member body headed by Abdul Aziz Bin Habtoor, a former governor of Aden, has provoked a strong response from the government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, whose forces have been battling the Iran-backed Al Houthi rebels and their allies since 2014.
It could also be a gesture of defiance aimed at the United Nations and United States, which continue to advocate a national unity government that would include rebels and representatives of the Hadi camp.
The new cabinet was announced by the “supreme political council” which was established in August this year by Al Houthis and their allies, supporters of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The announcement reported by the Al Houthi-run state television and Saba news agency, said it was formed from “all walks of the political spectrum who are anti-aggression.”
The reference was a swipe at the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia that supports Yemen’s internationally-recognised president, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who was driven into Saudi exile in 2014 after the Al Houthis routed him from Sana’a, the capital. Al Houthis control a large portion of Yemen including Sana’a.
Releasing the government line-up on Monday, the rebels said they were responding to Hadi’s “stubbornness” in continuing the war.
Saleh supporters have been given the defence, interior and foreign ministries and Al Houthis the portfolios of petroleum, finance, information, education and justice.
Saba said that the supreme political council had decided a new government was needed “basically to arrange the domestic situation and face the aggression economically, militarily and politically.”
A spokesman for Hadi’s government, Rajeh Badi, was quoted by Reuters as saying that the announcement showed a “disregard not just for the Yemeni people but also for the international community.”
There was no immediate comment from the UN special envoy to Yemen, Esmail Ould Shaikh Ahmad, who had been working on a way for the conflict’s antagonists to form a unity government in conjunction with diplomatic efforts by the US secretary of state, John Kerry.
But a US State Department spokesman, John Kirby, criticised the announcement, saying it was “clearly not conducive to achieving a lasting and comprehensive settlement to the conflict in Yemen, which will require political negotiation and consensus among all parties.”
While Al Houthis initially appeared to have accepted the power-sharing idea, Hadi rejected it, insisting that he was Yemen’s legitimate president. Hadi also appeared incensed at Kerry’s efforts to help resolve the conflict.
Kerry visited the region a few weeks ago, met with Al Houthi representatives in Oman and announced a provisional truce and power-sharing plan. Hadi’s aides contended that Kerry had rushed to complete a deal before the Obama administration’s term ends and that US officials had not coordinated with their side.
Kirby has disputed those assertions and said of Kerry, “I think the secretary would make no apologies for having a sense of urgency here.”
- with input from agencies