UN pushes for Ramadan ceasefire in Yemen
LONDON - After a number of delays and setbacks, UN-sponsored talks in Geneva designed to stem the war in Yemen have begun. Speaking at the start of negotiations, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated: “Yemen’s very existence hangs in the balance. While parties bicker, Yemen burns.”
The secretary-general stressed the need for local ceasefires and a renewed humanitarian pause, particularly as the holy month of Ramadan begins. “I am urging them that, particularly during this Ramadan, which is a period for peace for people, they must stop,” Ban said. “I am urging the parties to have a humanitarian pause so that this can create some political space,” he said.
The talks started on June 15th after a delay in the arrival of the Houthi delegation, which the committee blamed on Egypt and Sudan, countries friendly with the Arab coalition fighting the Houthi-led group in Yemen, for not allowing clearance to fly over their airspace.
The rebels’ plane left the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, on June 14th but was forced to wait in Djibouti for nearly 24 hours, until Oman, the only Gulf monarchy that has not joined the Saudi-led Arab coalition, intervened.
Seif al-Washli, an adviser to the Houthi team, told Reuters in Geneva, “It is clear this was a result of Saudi pressure on Egypt and Sudan to block the delegation and humiliate them.”
Egyptian civil aviation officials denied Cairo had objections to the Houthi delegation using its airspace.
The Geneva talks were expected to last two to three days, with UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, from Mauritania, shuttling between the delegations.
Officials, analysts and media representing both sides of the conflict have been mostly pessimistic about the UN-sponsored talks, however.
Exiled Yemeni Foreign Minister Riad Yassin said on June 15th prospects for a breakthrough were poor. “I’m not very optimistic,” Yassin told Agence France-Presse, adding that the rebels “never respect any treaty” and were in Geneva “to make chaos”.
He said a limited ceasefire was possible only if the Houthis withdrew from cities, released 6,000 prisoners, which include the Hadi government’s minister of defence, and complied with a UN resolution.
Regarding whether these preconditions were a non-starter, Sana’a-based CNN analyst Hakim Almasmari said: “Let’s be honest.
They (the exiled Yemeni leadership) are in Riyadh on the run. They have no power. They can talk, but on the ground they need more power to accomplish their goals.
Some of their demands can be resolved but not at their level of expectations because their representation in Yemen at the moment is very low.”
Almasmari said the Houthis are stuck in a quagmire: “They have failed politically. Their public support has dramatically weakened in the last couple of months, and they are seeking a solution.
“This war proved to both sides that you need more than power to win, but dialogue, otherwise this will continue to be a source of trouble for all involved,” he added.
Yemen has been wracked by conflict between Iran-backed Shia rebels and exiled President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s internationally recognised government.
More than 2,600 people have been killed since the coalition began military operations in March. A humanitarian crisis worsened due to a blockade imposed to stop military supplies to the Houthis. However, it also cut off civilians’ access to food, medicine and fuel.
More than 3,000 cases, with three confirmed deaths, of dengue fever have been recorded since the conflict began, the World Health Organisation said.
In another development, the Washington Post reported that the leader of al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen was targeted in a CIA drone strike. al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released a video statement saying Nasir al-Wuhayshi died in the June 12th attack. Qasim al-Rimi was named as Wuhayshi’s successor