Houthis torpedo Geneva talks before they begin

Houthis’ avoiding the talks is tied to the unprecedented losses they have been suffering on the ground, especially in Hodeidah.
Saturday 08/09/2018
Dashed hopes. UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths speaks ahead of peace talks in Geneva, on September 5. (AFP)
Dashed hopes. UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths speaks ahead of peace talks in Geneva, on September 5. (AFP)

ADEN - The Iran-allied Houthi rebels torpedoed efforts by UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths to kick-start talks between factions involved in the war in Yemen on the day they were to begin.

The Houthi delegation refused to travel to Switzerland unless the United Nations met several demands after having told Griffiths the Houthis were ready for talks.

The Houthis demanded that wounded rebels be taken to Oman for treatment, the repatriation of rebels already treated there and a guarantee that the Houthi delegation would be allowed to return to Sana’a after the Geneva talks.

The Houthis claimed that the Saudi-led coalition had refused authorisation for an Omani aeroplane to land at Sana’a airport to fly their delegation to the Geneva talks. “We do not understand why the Omani plane was not authorised other than it being out of disrespect for a peaceful, political solution in Yemen,” the Houthi statement said.

Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said the coalition had granted “the required authorisation to a UN plane” but the United Nations requested the cancellation of the authorisation. Speaking to Saudi state-owned Al Ekhbariya TV, Malki accused the rebels of “forestalling the political process.”

The Yemeni government delegation, led by Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, gave the Houthi rebels 24 hours to show up for talks.

Yemeni delegation member Hamza Alkamali said the talks had been scheduled for two months and that the rebels clearly “don’t want peace.” Clearance for a flight carrying rebel delegates and wounded was “issued three days ago,” he said.

A statement from Griffiths’ office said: “[The envoy] continues to make efforts to overcome obstacles to allow the consultations to go forward,” and that he was “hopeful” the rebels would go to Geneva.

However, the evening of September 6, Griffiths issued a statement that no meetings would take place September 7.

The Geneva talks would have been the Yemen peace negotiation in more than two years when consultations sponsored by the Kuwaiti government between the government of Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Iran-allied rebels failed to reach a deal.

The UN Security Council had urged both sides to “take a first step towards ending a conflict that has brought severe pain and humanitarian suffering to the Yemeni people.”

Assistant Under-secretary of the Yemeni Ministry of Information Fayyad al-Nu’man said the Yemeni government was seeking to achieve real progress in the political file, through positive interaction with the ideas put forward by Griffiths.

Nu’man said that the government delegation went to Geneva before the consultations started confirmed the government was “responsibly handling the aspirations of the Yemeni people, which is to restore the state and release the abductees and those who are forcibly hidden in the rebel prisons and to end the manifestations of the coup.”

Nu’man said what the government got in return were “militia tactics in dealing with what was agreed upon with UN envoy on Geneva, by (the Houthis) refusing to attend.”

“The UN envoy and the sponsors of the political process in Yemen are responsible for stopping the false and provocative methods the militias are using in dealing with the consultations, which is evidence of political bankruptcy,” he said.

Yemeni political analysts said the Houthis’ avoiding the talks is tied to the unprecedented losses they have been suffering on the ground, especially in Hodeidah.

“The Houthis were in need of a sudden military victory to strengthen their negotiating position in the Geneva consultations,” Yemeni political researcher Ali Hamid al-Ahdal said, adding that the militia had very little to bargain with.