Southern separatists clashed on Wednesday with presidential guards in Aden, the seat of Yemen’s government, and one person was killed and at least two badly injured, local officials and residents told Reuters.
The violence highlighted a rift within the Saudi-backed coalition battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in a more than a four-year war that has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
The separatists and the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi are nominally united in their battle against the Houthis.
But they have rival agendas for Yemen’s future, and a missile strike in Aden last week that killed dozens of southern soldiers raised friction between them.
Just before Wednesday’s clash, hundreds of separatist supporters attended a funeral for some of the southern soldiers and a prominent commander near the hilltop presidential palace.
As the crowd chanted anti-government slogans, shooting was exchanged with presidential guards. The identities of the one dead and two injured people were not immediately known.
After the funeral, the vice-president of the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), Hani Ali Brik, called on supporters to march on the palace and overthrow the government, but there was no sign such a march had begun.
Yemen’s interior minister Ahmed al-Maysari said the government had so far practiced restraint to maintain stability in Aden but was “fully ready” to combat any actions targeting the state’s institutions.
“We call on the Yemeni people not to respond to such calls as they only aim for war and only serve the Houthis,” said Maysarri.
The United Nations’ special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, expressed concern about the flare-up in Aden.
I am alarmed by the military escalations in Aden today, including reports of clashes in the vicinity of the Presidential Palace. I am also deeply concerned by the recent rhetoric encouraging violence against Yemeni institutions.
A senior United Arab Emirates (UAE) official, Anwar Gargash, called for calm after the violence, which he described on Twitter as worrying, and said escalation between the two sides was not acceptable after attacks claimed by Daesh and al Qaeda in southern Yemen in recent days.
The UAE supports the anti-Houthi coalition but also backs the southern separatists.