Al Mukalla: South Yemen separatists have thrown their weight behind their old enemy Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi in his continuing battles against the powerful Al Houthi movement in southern provinces.

The Yemen president was forced to sneak out of the Yemeni capital in February after a month under house arrest imposed by Al Houthi rebels. Al Houthis who have been in full control of the Yemeni capital since September 21, dispatched heavily armed forces to Aden to besiege Hadi, setting off clashes with Hadi’s forces

In his first speech since arriving in Aden, Hadi, himself a southerner, said on March 21 that he sticks to the political process that proposed dividing the country into six semi-autonomous regions, an option that was strongly rejected by the separatists.

“We do not mind fighting under the flag of any southern figure. This is a new invasion on the south that would attract terrorism and sectarian warfare,” Ahmad Al Roubizi, a leading separatist in Aden and an aide to the former vice-president Ali Salem Al Beidh.

The separatists, who are predominately popular in the restive south, unpredictably backed Hadi militarily by sending hundreds of fighters to the frontlines to hold off the Al Houthi advance.

Al Roubizi said: “We released that any new invasion would exacerbate the suffering of the southerners,”

Anti-unification sentiments came to the fore in 2007 when hundreds of army officers and public servants protested in Aden to demand returning to their jobs that they lost after the civil war in 1994 between south and north.

Hadi was the then minister of defence who led the forces of the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and said to have played a pivotal role in ending the war. The separatists protested against Hadi when he came to power in 2012, when he appeared to staunchly support the unification of the country.

“Separatists and Hadi have many things in common,” said Fatehi Bin Lazerg, the editor of Aden Al Ghad, a popular daily newspaper in the south.

“Hadi is the closest leader to the Hirak (separatist movement) compared to other figures like Ali Abdullah Saleh, members of the Islamists Islah party or Ali Mohsin Al Ahmer,” Al Ahmer is a former powerful army general who defected from Saleh’s regime in 2011.

According to Bin Lazerg, Hadi’s popular committees that fight Al Houthi forces in Aden are preeminently made of separatists who hoist the flag of the former south Yemen state in their areas of dominance.

“When he arrived in Aden in February, Hirak sent a assurance message to Hadi by declaring that he is not their enemy.”

The separatists also halted their protests against Hadi and held many meetings with him for the first time since 2007.

When the Saudi led coalition of Arab and Islamic states launched strikes on Thursday on the military locations of Al Houthis, the separatists were the earliest powerful forces in Yemen that welcomed the strikes on their opponents.

“I would like to seize this opportunity to thank them for this intervention and we demand more,” Al Roubizi said.

The leading separatist figure said that their men who fight Al Houthis are in desperate need of arms and ammunitions. “We have many young men who are so eager to fight but they do not have weapons.”

Bin Lazerg said that the separatists gained the upper hand after the air strikes enabling them to drive Houthi forces out of key locations in Aden.

“The separatists think that the strikes rescued them from the northerners.”