Yemen conflict edges closer to resolution
SANA\'A - Major developments in diplomatic efforts to end the 15-month war in Yemen are taking shape, as negotiations and closed-door meetings have established conditions for a possible national unity government.
Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam, after meeting with Saudi officials in Riyadh, left for Yemen to brief Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi and other high-ranking members of the movement on terms of a tentative agreement, Yemeni sources said.
The initial terms of the agreement are predicated on a Houthi pledge to secure the border with Saudi Arabia to ensure safety and guarantee no further transgressions, as happened during previous peace talks and ceasefires.
Abdulsalam is seeking to obtain the Houthi leadership’s approval regarding a transitional government before returning to Kuwait to continue the negotiation process, sources said.
As far as the Saudi side is concerned, the invitation to the Houthi spokesmen is based on its insistence that a border agreement is finalised, as officials in the kingdom say a political solution cannot be reached while its border is being shelled by Houthi forces, source stressed.
The London based pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, which is closely associated with the Saudi government, reported that Riyadh has drafted an all-inclusive peace agreement that has been endorsed by warring factions at peace talks in Kuwait. It is unclear if the proposal includes the formation of a transitional government.
The Arab coalition fighting Houthi insurgents released 52 child soldiers recruited by the Houthis to the internationally recognised government of Yemen, a move welcomed by UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
“We applaud the efforts of the coalition and the government of Yemen especially given that we are in the month of Ramadan,” Ould Cheikh Ahmed said. “We hope that the parties will adhere to their commitment to this humanitarian issue and proceed with the release of all prisoners and detainees in the near future.”
Saudi officials said the process of handing over the children was carried out with the coordination with a number of international organisations, including the Red Cross and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“Appropriate actions have been taken by transferring them to shelters, according to their legal age, and the application of preventive measures to protect children and provide them with the appropriate conditions. The involvement of children in the bloody events and minefields is considered as an inhuman act and is contrary to all international norms and laws,” a statement from the official Saudi Press Agency said.
About one-third of combatants in Yemen’s war are children, according to UNICEF. The Houthi rebels and militias fighting on behalf of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi send children to the front lines of the war, which, according the United Nations, has left more than 6,000 people dead since it started in March 2015.
The United Nations removed the Saudi-led Arab coalition from its blacklist for violating child rights, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon saying he was pressured to do so over threats by Saudi supporters that would have seen some UN funding cut.
Saudi Ambassador to the United Nations Abdallah al-Mouallimi denied the kingdom pressured Ban, adding: “It is not in our nature to conduct ourselves in any such aggressive style”.
The war in Yemen began after the Shia Houthis and their allies overran the capital, Sana’a, in September 2014 and seized most of the country, prompting Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia.
An Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United States and Britain, began an air campaign against the rebels in March 2015. Arab coalition ground troops later entered the fight to restore the UN-recognised government.