New UN envoy to tackle conflict, challenges in Yemen

Sunday 28/01/2018
Comprehensive operation. A Saudi soldier stands guard next to a Saudi Air Force cargo plane delivering aid at an airfield in the northern province of Marib, on January 22. (Reuters)
Comprehensive operation. A Saudi soldier stands guard next to a Saudi Air Force cargo plane delivering aid at an airfield in the northern province of Marib, on January 22. (Reuters)

SANA'A - Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is stepping down after three years as the UN special envoy to

Yemen, making him the second international diplomat to quit in frustration over lack of progress in resolving the country’s conflicts and mounting social problems.

Reports said veteran British diplomat Martin Griffiths is likely to replace Ould Cheikh Ahmed. Griffiths is the executive director of the European Institute of Peace and was once deputy UN emergency relief coordinator, as well as the UN regional coordinator in the Balkans in 1999.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed hasn’t spoken to leaders of Houthi rebels, who are fighting forces of the internationally backed government and a Saudi-led coalition, since last May after the militia attacked his convoy in Sana’a. He told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that he did not wish to renew his contract when it expires at the end of February. His predecessor, Jamal Benomar, left in April 2015 after four years of trying to negotiate a political transition in Yemen.

“The special envoy remains committed to pursue through diplomacy an end to the violence and a political solution that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Yemeni people until a successor is named,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The internationally recognised Yemeni government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi blamed the Iran-allied Houthi rebels for sabotaging UN efforts to resolve the almost 3-year conflict, the Dubai-based Al Arabiya news channel reported. Al Arabiya also said Griffiths has made several trips to the region in recent months.

Yemeni political analyst

Ali al-Bukhaiti said Griffiths will not be able to offer more than what his predecessors did, given that a political settlement in Yemen is not likely due to the ideological leanings of the Houthis. “They cannot accept any real settlement unless they have been militarily defeated and their authority ended on the ground,” Bukhaiti said.

“Even if an agreement was reached for a settlement and the Houthi group continues to bear arms and control state institutions and Sana’a, this settlement would legitimise the Houthis and grant them the opportunity to obtain regional and international recognition before they launched another battle, which would be very different,” he said.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdulmalik al-Mekhlafi said, despite reports to the contrary, no agreement had been reached concerning direct talks between Yemen’s government and the Houthi rebels, the London pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat reported.

He told the newspaper that many issues needed to be addressed before direct talks were brought up. He said a UN official’s comments “must have been misunderstood” about talks taking place.

On the humanitarian front, the Saudi-led coalition delivered the first tranche of aid to the Yemeni province of Marib, 48 hours after the coalition’s foreign ministers met in Riyadh and agreed to open ports and aviation routes and provide

$1.5 billion more in aid.

Al Arabiya reported that a runway was repaired at Sana’a airport to deliver the aid to all Yemeni provinces. The Saudi-Yemeni border crossing of al-Khadra was opened for aid delivery to al-Buqa for the first time since the conflict started.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issued a directive to transfer $2 billion to the Central Bank of Yemen to support the Yemeni rial. The move by Saudi Arabia to save the Yemeni currency resulted in a 16% spike for the rial against the dollar.

The conflict in Yemen began when Shia Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh overran Sana’a in September 2014 and seized most of the country. A Saudi-led Arab coalition, supported by the United States and the United Kingdom, began an air campaign against the rebels in March 2015.

Despite reports to the contrary, no agreement had been reached concerning direct talks between Yemen’s government and the Houthi rebels.

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