Diplomacy fails Yemen during the past year
London - The end to the conflict in Yemen appears as elusive as it was 12 months ago, with mistrust and ill will palpable on both sides of a 20-month-old war that has killed more than 7,000 people.
For Yemen, 2016 will be defined by unsuccessful ceasefires, counterproductive politicking and failed peace talks, including negotiations in Kuwait endorsed by the United Nations and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that lasted more than three months.
Encapsulating the failure of diplomatic efforts, as the United States and the United Nations were pushing a peace initiative in November, the Iran-allied Houthi rebels announced the formation of a new government, contradicting commitments they had made to the international community.
“The announcement by (the Houthi) Ansar Allah and the General People’s Congress on the formation of a new government in Sana’a represents a new and concerning obstacle to the peace process and does not serve the interests of the people of Yemen in these difficult times,” UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said on his official Twitter account.
“This step is really in favour of the legitimate government. It can take this opportunity to make some gains on the ground, turning things in their favour since the move by the Houthis relieves the pressures linked with the [US Secretary of State John] Kerry-UN proposal,” Yemeni political analyst Zaid al- Salami said.
“The Houthis’ announcement has really torpedoed all UN efforts.”
Further complicating matters have been tense relations between Ould Cheikh Ahmed and the internationally recognised Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi after a proposal by the UN envoy — endorsed by the Houthis — appeared to relegate Hadi to president in name only.
Hadi described the proposal, which appeared to have been supported by Saudi and UAE officials, as an “explicit departure” from UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which calls on the rebels to withdraw from territory they have captured since 2014. The Houthis described the proposal as a “basis for discussion” but said it contained “fundamental flaws”.
The US Navy intercepted several weapons shipments intended for the Houthi militia in Yemen. A statement by the US Navy 5th Fleet said the cargo included 1,500 AK- 47s, 200 rocket-propelled grenade launchers and 21 machine guns, all originating from Iran. Similar shipments intended for the Houthis were stopped by French and Australian naval forces.
As the UN-sponsored Kuwait peace talks were going on, Iran stepped up its military support. An Iranian official told Reuters that there had been a “sharp surge in Iran’s help to the Houthis in Yemen” since May.
US officials revealed that most of the weapons smuggling had been through Oman, a GCC member. Although Oman denied weapons were smuggled across its border, the regional political ramifications of this development was quickly felt, with speculation of the GCC going from alliance to a union, one that would exclude Oman, gaining force.
Also during the past year, al- Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State (ISIS) strengthened their positions in Yemen with ISIS operatives killing 100 soldiers in the last weeks of the 2016.
A report by the US Department of State stated that, in 2015, “AQAP expanded its safe haven by seizing several towns, including the port city of Mukalla, which has given it access to increased financial resources”. The report said that AQAP had increased recruiting and expanded its safe haven in Yemen.
Staff Brigadier Musallam al- Rashidi, commander of UAE forces in Hadramawt, said AQAP looted up to $100 million while in control of Mukalla, making the port a key source of funding. In April 2016, after almost a year of AQAP operating unchecked, Yemeni forces backed by Gulf Arab coalition air strikes drove AQAP out of Mukalla.
As many as 800 AQAP fighters were killed and many others fled Mukalla, while at least 27 Yemeni soldiers died in the April 26th operation, military officials and medics said.
The humanitarian crisis caused by the conflict, which began when the Houthis and their allies overran Sana’a in September 2014, continues to grow. At least 18 million people in Yemen are said to be in need of urgent aid and assistance.
A UN report stated in November that close to 2.2 million people have been displaced since the start of the war, with another 180,000 fleeing the country. The report said there were approximately 2 million Yemeni refugees.