Separatists Seize Military Bases in Yemen
Plus: Trump cancels Denmark trip because he can't buy Greenland, another plan for Rohingya repatriation, and the other stories we’re following today.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Separatists clash with government forces in Yemen, Donald Trump cancels a visit to Copenhagen after Denmark declines to sell him Greenland, and the U.N. Security Council meets over a proposed Rohingya repatriation plan.
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Coalition Infighting Continues in Yemen
Separatists in Yemen supported by the United Arab Emirates have seized military bases in Abyan province in the country’s south, just over a week after making similar advances in the port of Aden. On Tuesday, the militia—which represents the pro-secession Southern Transitional Council (STC)—again clashed with government forces, who are their supposed allies in the Saudi-led coalition against the rebel Houthi movement. The government has labeled their actions a “coup” attempt.
The renewed fighting raises questions about the internationally-recognized government’s control over its remaining territory, particularly since the UAE began withdrawing some of its troops from the country earlier this month. The U.N. envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said Tuesday that political fragmentation was becoming a greater threat. “The stakes are becoming too high for the future of Yemen,” he said.
Political fragmentation? The fighting between the separatists and government forces seems to reflect a growing rift between the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The UAE reduced its troops and allowed the southern militia to fill in—leaving behind potential competition. Now, an STC spokesman says that it refuses to withdraw from the military bases but is open to talks with the government.
What about peace talks? Griffiths, the U.N. envoy, emphasized the urgent need to accelerate the peace process—something the UAE and Saudi Arabia appear to disagree over. The rising tensions between the southern separatists and the government could further jeopardize peace talks involving all parties in the ongoing conflict, including the Houthis.
What We’re Following Today
No Greenland, no visit. Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump expressed interest in buying Greenland from Denmark, only to be rebuffed by Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. Trump has responded by canceling a planned visit to Copenhagen in early September. His tweets left little doubt about the true purpose of the trip. He made it clear that he is postponing the visit because Frederiksen said “that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland,” adding that “The Prime Minister was able to save a great deal of expense and effort for both the United States and Denmark by being so direct.” Danish politicians and commentators across the political spectrum initially saw the idea as a joke and viewed the cancellation as an insult that will damage a strong bilateral relationship.
Trump expected to announce new long-term detention rules. The Trump administration is expected to announce new rules that would allow U.S. authorities to detain families for longer periods if they travel across the U.S.-Mexico border with children, ABC News reports. The announcement could come as soon as today. Until now, the time limit for the detention of children has been set at 20 days—a rule that Republican politicians argue encourages families to migrate with children.
U.N. Security Council meets over Rohingya repatriation. The U.N. Security Council will hold a closed-door meeting today to discuss a proposed plan to repatriate 3,450 Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar, nearly a year after a similar attempt failed due to opposition in the refugee camps. The Rohingyas fled a military crackdown in Rakhine state in August 2017, and many fear violence if they return. Officials from the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday that few refugees have responded to a survey on the plan and none have agreed to return.
Italy’s governments seeks a way out of crisis. Italian President Sergio Mattarella is expected to begin formal discussions with party leaders today after Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte handed in his resignation on Tuesday amid a growing government crisis. The announcement followed League party chief Matteo Salvini’s surprise move to back out of an alliance with the Five Star Movement. Now, all parties will scramble to form a new coalition—which could send Salvini and the League into the opposition or lay the groundwork for an election.
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Keep an Eye On
The EU-Mercosur trade deal. A dispute over German and Norwegian funding for Brazil’s Amazon region could threaten a free trade deal between the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc. It began when Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro diverted conservation funds for agribusiness and Germany and Norway froze millions of dollars in aid. The trade agreement would require Brazil to follow the Paris climate accord.
Asia’s African swine fever outbreak. Pressure is increasing on researchers to develop a vaccine against African swine fever as the highly contagious disease devastates pig herds in Asia. The virus—which doesn’t harm people—has spread from China to other countries in the region, including Mongolia, Vietnam, and Cambodia. The Philippines, which has banned pork products from a dozen countries, began investigating a rise in pig deaths in some areas this week.
Police infiltration in Hong Kong. Last week, anti-government protesters in Hong Kong attacked a man they believed to be a police infiltrator from the mainland—a propaganda coup for Beijing. Their paranoia could be justified, Matthew Sweet argues in FP: History shows that police infiltration has long held a place within radical movements.
A verdict in Cameroon. On Tuesday, a military court in Cameroon sentenced 10 Anglophone separatist leaders to life in prison—including the head of the separatist movement, Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe. Activists have called the trial a sham and worry that the harsh sentences will only drag out the two-year conflict, which has killed nearly 2,000 people and displaced half a million.
Israeli opposition leader Benny Gantz’s party has signed a vote-sharing deal with Avigdor Lieberman’s party that could threaten Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection chances in September. Polls show Gantz’s Blue and White party tied with Netanyahu’s Likud, with 30 seats in parliament each. Lieberman’s party is expected to win 10 seats. Vote-sharing deals are common in Israel; they permit parties to share surplus votes that don’t give a party the numbers needed for an extra Knesset seat, allowing them to share the extra votes with an ally instead.
The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is surging in regional polls ahead of two state elections next month in the country’s east. A victory for the far-right party in both Saxony and Brandenberg on Sept. 1 would put extra pressure on the already fragile ruling coalition of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democrats.
Odds and Ends
India has ordered ex-members of parliament still occupying nearly 200 official homes in the capital despite losing their seats in May to leave within a week. The plush bungalows are located in New Delhi’s Lutyens zone, designed by a British architect as part of the colonial capital. It has a history of residents overstaying their welcome, the Guardian reports.
As Afghanistan waits for the outcome of the U.S.-Taliban peace talks, workers at the country’s national museum in Kabul have begun reassembling ancient artifacts destroyed by the Taliban. The museum was attacked in 2001, with more than 2,500 invaluable statues shattered.
That’s it for today.
Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson