A top Yemeni official said Wednesday that southern separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates must pull out of the port city of Aden before Yemen's internationally recognized government will engage in talks with them.
Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdullah al-Hadrami said the separatists must "commit to total withdrawal from areas forcibly seized." He also called on them to hand over arms seized from forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
The fighters for the Southern Transitional Council wrested control of Aden, which serves as Hadi's interim capital, in four days of combat. More than 70 people, including civilians and combatants, were killed.
Both the separatists and Hadi's government are allies within a Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting northern Yemen-based rebels, known as Houthis, since 2015. The UAE is a key member of the coalition.
After the separatists seized control of Aden and kicked Hadi forces out of their camps, the Saudi-led coalition ordered an immediate cease-fire and threatened to bomb the separatists if they did not return to positions they held before the fighting.
It also called for the separatist movement and Hadi government to attend talks in Saudi Arabia without offering a date. The separatists said they would attend but they did not withdraw from the city and called on their supporters to take part in protests in Aden on Thursday.
Security officials said Wednesday that forces from the Security Belt, which is a military arm of the Southern Transitional Council, raided houses of Hadi loyalists and seized weapons from camps of the presidential guards in Aden's districts of Dar Saad and Khor Maksar.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
The fighting began last week following the funeral of a separatist leader killed in a Houthi rocket attack. After his funeral in Aden, the southern separatists attacked the nearby presidential palace. At the time, Hani Bin Braik, a separatist leader and former Cabinet minister, called for the overthrow of the government.
The crisis has cast doubt on the cohesiveness of the Saudi-led coalition and adds another complexity to Yemen civil war, triggered by the Houthi takeover the capital, Sanaa in 2014.
The war has killed tens of thousands of people and has spawned the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Associated Press writer Ahmed al-Haj reported this story in Sanaa and AP writer Samy Magdy reported from Cairo.