Mistrust grips Yemen antagonists ahead of peace talks

Friday 08/04/2016
A cache of weapons is assembled on the deck of the guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely operating in the Arabian Sea. Seized shipments of illicit arms were assessed by the United States to originate in Iran and likely bound for Houthi insurgents in Yemen.

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”.