The internationally recognized Yemen government on Tuesday signed a power-sharing agreement with the southern separatists, in an initiative promoted by Saudi Arabia to end a conflict that boils in the country's civil war.
The riots in the south, which saw secessionist forces take control of the interim capital of Yemen, Aden, distracted the Saudi-led coalition from its battle against the Houthi rebels and raised fears that the country could fall apart by full.
“This agreement will open a new period of stability in Yemen. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is with you, ”said Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, at a signing ceremony in Riyadh broadcast on state television.
The agreement is reported to see that the secessionist Southern Transition Council (STC) delivered several ministries and the government will return to Aden, according to officials and reports in Saudi media.
The UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, congratulated the two sides for the agreement that he said would boost efforts to end a broader civil war that has devastated the country.
"The signing of this agreement is an important step for our collective efforts to advance a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Yemen," he said in a statement.
"Listening to southern stakeholders is important for political efforts to achieve peace in the country." The Security Belt Forces, dominated by the STC, in August took control of Aden, which had served as the base of the besieged government since it was expelled from the Sanaa capital of the Houthi rebels backed by Iran in 2014.
The clashes between the separatists and the government forces, which for years fought on the same side against the Huthis, have generated fears that the country can be divided with disastrous effects.
Factions at war in recent weeks held indirect talks mediated by Saudi Arabia in the western city of the Jeddah kingdom, culminating in the agreement signed at Riyadh.
Both the president of Yemen, Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, and the leader of the STC, Aidarous al-Zoubeidi, attended the ceremony.
Analysts said the agreement prevented the violent disintegration of Yemen, but that secessionist sentiment could resurface in the future.
"In the short term, the agreement will allow the coalition to stay together and focus its efforts on fighting the Huthis instead of the others," said Elisabeth Kendall, principal investigator at the University of Oxford.
“In the long term, it simply kicks the can down the road in the southern secession. The ambitions of the south will not only disappear. The question is, can they be temporarily detained?
The military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) intervened in Yemen in 2015 when the Houthi rebels approached Aden, causing Hadi to flee to Saudi exile.
Since then, the conflict killed tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, and led millions more to the brink of famine in what the United Nations calls the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
The south was an independent state before being unified by force in 1990, and the STC has said it wants to regain its lost state.
The separatists have received support and training from the UAE, although it is a key pillar in the coalition led by Saudi Arabia.
Abu Dhabi accuses the Yemeni authorities of allowing Islamist elements to gain influence within their ranks.
Mistrust among the allies has raised a headache for the regional power of Saudi Arabia, which remains focused on fighting the Huthis who are aligned with the archipelago of Riyadh, Iran.
However, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, tweeted a picture of himself and Prince Mohammed walking hand in hand with Hadi after Tuesday's ceremony.
The Huthis have offered to stop all attacks against Saudi Arabia as part of a broader peace initiative, and then repeated their proposal despite continued air attacks by the Saudi-led coalition.
The offer came after the Houthis took responsibility for the attacks on September 14 against two key Saudi oil facilities that temporarily interrupted half of the production of the OPEC giant.
Riyadh and Washington, however, blamed Iran for the attacks, a charge denied by Tehran.