Yemen ceasefire holds despite violations, talks anticipated
SANAA - Despite reports of sporadic fighting and a suicide bombing in the southern port city of Aden, the fragile ceasefire in Yemen between government and Houthi rebel forces continues to hold, raising hopes that peace talks due to start in Kuwait on April 18th can resolve the 1-year-old conflict.
Most of the reported ceasefire violations occurred in the south-western city of Taiz, which the United Nations described as “pockets of violence”. There were breaches in Marib province, east of the capital Sana’a, but the Saudi-led coalition described them as “minor”. The suicide bombing, which targeted an army recruitment post in Aden and killed several people, was believed to be carried out by Islamist militants.
Monitoring teams made up of Yemeni representatives from both sides of the conflict were stationed in three provinces to report ceasefire violations to a committee supervised by the United Nations.
The spokesman for the Houthi negotiating committee, Muhammad Abdelsalam, blamed ceasefire breaches on “merchants of war and those who hate peace and stability”.
Abdelsalam said the military and security situation in Yemen was more complex and intertwined than ever. Yemen “is in dire need for a clear-cut political agreement outlining the contours of a state,” he told the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat.
Political developments that could affect peace talks have also come to the fore, particularly the Southern Separatist Movement’s renewed calls for secession. The movement has organised what it billed as a million-man march before the peace talks. According to insiders, the march is being held out of fear that the movement’s demands would not be a part of negotiations.
According to a Southern Separatist Movement statement, the march aims to “deliver a message to the nations gathered at the meeting in Kuwait, especially the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia” that the south “will not accept any outcome detracting from its right to liberation and independence”.
The statement said: “Stability in the south, Yemen and the whole region depends on resolving the issue of the south through the return of full sovereignty of the south.”
Yemen was split into rival north and south states from the late 1960s and fought a series of bitter wars before unification in 1990.
Observers say this may torpedo the peace talks, especially in light of the recent cabinet reshuffle in which vice-president Khaled Bahah was sacked by Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Hadi dismissed Bahah on April 3rd. In a statement, Hadi said Bahah had “failed to ease the suffering of our people, resolve their problems and provide for their needs”.
Hadi selected Ahmed bin Dagher, former secretary-general of the General People’s Congress (GPC) party, as prime minister. The position of vice-president went to General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.
Political sources in Sana’a described Mohsen as a contentious figure, dating to the 1978 coup in which he was one of the strongest supporters of the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh. Mohsen later helped to oust Saleh from power in the 2011 uprising tied to the “Arab spring”.
Dagher also has a colourful history. He fought against Saleh as head of the Socialist Party and was exiled in 1994. He was pardoned and joined Saleh as a member of the GPC. Dagher defected to the Hadi camp in the autumn of 2015.
The conflict in Yemen began in March 2015 when Arab coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United States, began air strikes against the Houthis to restore the UN-recognised government of Hadi to power. The war has resulted in the deaths of more than 6,000 people and led to severe food shortages.