UN backing for Saudi mediation between Yemen’s STC, Hadi government

UN Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths holds talks in Riyadh, to visit Sana’a and Muscat.
Wednesday 01/07/2020
Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel al-Jubeir (R), meets with UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, June 30 in Riyadh. (DPA)
Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel al-Jubeir (R), meets with UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, June 30 in Riyadh. (DPA)

ADEN –Informed political sources revealed to The Arab Weekly that the United Nations and the ambassadors of the 19 countries sponsoring the peace process in Yemen have joined the Arab coalition’s efforts to revive the Riyadh Agreement and end the military confrontations between the Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) in the governorate of Abyan (east of Aden).

According to the sources, the recent moves by the UN and the international community intersect with the overall efforts to reach a comprehensive agreement in Yemen between the legitimate government and the Houthi militias on the basis of the Stockholm and Riyadh agreements that have become the core for proposals for a political solution to the Yemeni crisis.

A 2019 file picture shows UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths next to a Houthi official, in Hodeidah, Yemen. (REUTERS)
A 2019 file picture shows UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths next to a Houthi official, in Hodeidah, Yemen. (REUTERS)

In this context, UN Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths arrived in the Saudi capital Riyadh at the start of a new tour that diplomatic sources said would most likely include Sana’a and Muscat.

Political sources told The Arab Weekly that the new UN envoy’s tour in the region will be based on two aspects. The first relates to the Riyadh Agreement and urging the signatory parties to start implementing it, and the other is related to the proposals being circulated for building trust between the Yemeni government and the Houthis.

Some of the issues that Griffiths will raise during his tour include exchanging prisoners, an economic truce and a proposed mechanism for opening Sana’a International Airport under the supervision of the Arab coalition, in addition to the issue of the abandoned oil tanker FSO Safer moored off the Red Sea coast of Yemen and for which the United Nations is seeking to secure the necessary permissions and security guarantees in order to reach it and perform basic checks and maintenance  work on it as reports of oil spilling from the tanker become more pressing.

In Riyadh, the UN envoy met on Tuesday with Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The official Yemeni News Agency reported that Hadi expressed “his keenness on achieving a comprehensive peace according to the three references, which is conducive to achieving sustainable security and stability in Yemen and the region, away from patchwork solutions and the transfer of crises.”

In connection with the international political move taking place in the Saudi capital with regard to the Yemeni file, Hadi received US Ambassador to Yemen Christopher Henzel. A few days before that visit, British Ambassador to Yemen Michael Aron made a similar visit to the President of the Southern Transitional Council Aidarous al-Zubaidi.

Yemen map

Media sources quoted Zubaidi as confirming during his meeting with the British ambassador to Yemen that the STC was adamant on sticking to the priority of forming a new government equally divided between the north and the south, according to the Riyadh Agreement, to follow up on the implementation of the terms of the agreement.

According to political sources, the STC is demanding to start implementing the political part of the Riyadh Agreement by forming new government bodies to supervise the implementation of the provisions of the military part of the agreement, given the Council’s lack of trust in the current government’s institutions, which are believed to have been hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood and the pro-Qatar current in the government.

In the opposite camp, however, the pro-Qatar current in the government has rejected the Riyadh Agreement in its totality, while a different current in the same government has made demands deemed unacceptable, and therefore useless, by many observers, such as disarming and dismantling the STC forces and allowing the government forces to take over Aden and the island of Socotra before starting to implement the provisions of the Riyadh Agreement.

In a statement Monday, the UN Security Council renewed the council members’ “steadfast support for Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and his efforts to reach agreement on a nationwide ceasefire, humanitarian and economic measures, and the resumption of an inclusive Yemeni-led and Yemeni-owned political process.”

The members of the Security Council also expressed their “deep concern at the slow pace of negotiations and called on the parties to agree to mediated proposals with haste. They welcomed the announcement, brokered by the ‘Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen’, of a ceasefire in Abyan between the Government of Yemen and the Southern Transitional Council and the deployment of Coalition ceasefire monitors.”

Finally, council members “called on the parties to rapidly implement the provisions of the Riyadh Agreement. The Members of the Security Council called on the parties to commit themselves in good faith to enable a return to peace in Yemen.”

The rapid developments on the political level, and the resumption of talks in international forums about an imminent settlement of the Yemeni file, coincide with the escalation of the conflict inside the anti-Houthi camp, and the emergence of the role of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Qatari current within the Yemeni government, which seeks to thwart the efforts of the Arab coalition and divert the path of conflict away from the Iranian project in Yemen and towards the forces opposed to this project.

In this context, successive reports have revealed that certain fronts with the Houthis in Qaniya and al-Abediya, between the governorates of Marib and al-Bayda, have been handed over to the Houthis, in a move similar to the handover of al-Jawf governorate and Naham to the same Houthis, following the takeover of the temporary Yemini capital Aden in August 2019 by the STC forces.

While Yemeni parties continue to accuse the Muslim Brotherhood and the Qatar current in the Yemeni government of handing over the northern governorates to the Houthis, information emerged indicating ongoing mobilisation by these same currents in the liberated southern governorates of Shabwa and Abyan.

These past days, media sources have also revealed suspicious movements in Taiz governorate to hand over areas bordering southern Yemen to armed elements funded by Qatar and led by Hammoud al-Mikhlafi, a known Muslim Brother sheikh.

The sources said that these militias, who were trained in Mikhlafi’s camp in Yafras, reached the area of Tourba, south of Taiz, and engaged in skirmishes with the forces of the 35th armoured brigade, with the aim of taking control of the area. These new developments come within the framework of a plan to surround Aden and the western coast funded by Doha.

In the years that followed the end of its participation in the Arab coalition, Qatar succeeded in strengthening the presence of an anti-Arab coalition current inside the “legitimate” government coalition and worked on dismantling this government’s institutions and confusing the Arab coalition’s plans and work by igniting side conflicts and battles between the components of the national coalition and forces. These activities, according to observers, have strengthened the power of the Houthi militias and weakened the Yemeni government.