Diplomacy fails Yemen during the past year

Sunday 25/12/2016
US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) talks to UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed

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.