Mistrust grips Yemen antagonists ahead of peace talks
Sana’a - “Will hostilities really stop this Sunday? I don’t believe it,” said Mohamed Najib on the expected Yemen war ceasefire.
“The war has taken its toll on us. It has been a year now and we’re totally exhausted. We hope that our politicians are serious about the ceasefire this time and about starting negotiations to bring an end to the conflict,” Najib said.
Prospects of a political solution to the conflict pitting pro-Iran Houthi rebels and followers of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh against Saudi-backed forces loyal to President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi has dominated conversations in Yemen’s political circles.
The recent buzz comes after the disclosure of tribal-brokered accords between Riyadh and the Houthis that led to a ceasefire on the border and an exchange of prisoners and dead bodies in March.
However, deep mistrust persists. Officials on both sides have been accusing the side of taking the negotiations lightly and of being devious about a ceasefire.
UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said in a statement that with “political will, good intentions and balance, all parties can seize this opportunity to bring an end to the conflict and pave the way for a permanent truce”.
He said preparations were taking place in Sana’a, Riyadh and Kuwait and that a comprehensive ceasefire would be announced before peace negotiations were to start April 18th in Kuwait.
Hadi welcomed efforts to put an end to the “Houthi insurrection”, saying he was informed by Ould Cheikh Ahmed that rebels accepted UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which called for the resumption of the political process to end the conflict.
Colonel Ahmed Asiri, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis, said Riyadh supported the role played by the tribes in facilitating a truce and denied any Saudi involvement in the negotiations, stressing that the solution “will be entirely Yemeni”.
The Houthis, on their part, insisted the coalition stop military operations as a prerequisite for negotiations.
Mohamed Charfi, a political science professor at Sana’a University, said the UN declarations since the beginning of the war in Yemen “were not serious enough” to bring about an end to the conflict. “Any negotiations within the context of aggression and hostilities would only lead to further exacerbate the conflict,” he said.
On the clause in Resolution 2216 that calls on the Houthis to surrender their weapons and withdraw from the cities, Charfi said the rebels do not object to complying with this clause “but within the context of a clear and acceptable mechanism”.
Ali al-Badani, a specialist in crisis management at the University of Aden, maintained that Saleh’s attempts to take centre stage could hinder the talks.
“Saleh insisted on opening a [side] channel with Saudi Arabia,” Badani said. “He rallied his followers to mark the first anniversary of the [Saudi] aggression on Yemen, reaffirmed his alliance with the Houthis and covertly tried to intimidate President Hadi by threatening to go back to Sana’a. He persists in trying to appear the strongest among his opponents as well as his allies, who both do not trust him, though the latter pretend the opposite.”
He noted, however, that it was too early to make predictions about the outcome of the negotiations. “Even if they take place in an effective manner, we should not expect a positive outcome very soon,” he said. “I doubt Resolution 2216 will be implemented as is but rather its content will be diluted either by suppressing the clause on accountability and punishment or by complicating the mechanism for the Houthis’ withdrawal from cities and surrendering their weapons.
“The chaotic security conditions in addition to the existence of al- Qaeda in Al-Makla and Hadramawt give excuses to the Houthis and Saleh to keep their weapons since they blame Hadi’s government for the increase in terrorist activities.”
On the ground, the parties do not seem to be preparing for a durable ceasefire. Despite the accord with the Houthis, the Arab coalition intensified air strikes on rebel positions and Saleh’s supporters in north-western Yemen. Coalition troops carried out six ground operations in Midi and Hajja on the Saudi-Yemeni border in an obvious effort to seize control of the area before the ceasefire.
The Houthis also intensified their military operations as a reaction to what they considered as Saudi “provocations”.