Yemen: Fragile peace talks launched after delays
KUWAIT - Peace talks aimed at ending the 13-month war in Yemen kicked off in Kuwait after a three-day delay filled with uncertainty and speculation but salvaged by last-minute UN mediation efforts.
“The choice today is between two paths; a safe country that guarantees the stability and the rights of all or the broken land where children die on daily basis,” UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said at the start of the talks on April 21st.
“The consultations should provide a strong foundation for a new political consensus, to help Yemen achieve the stability and security that its people deserve and its future requires. The path to peace may be difficult but I believe that it is clearly in reach if all parties engage in good faith.”
Ould Cheikh Ahmed highlighted the human toll of the conflict, pointing out that nearly 7,000 have been killed and 35,000 wounded. Another 3 million have been forced from their homes. However, the envoy also noted marked improvements in Yemen’s security situation even though there have been serious violations of the truce.
Iranian-backed Houthi rebels took control of several areas, including the capital Sana’a and Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis pulled together an Arab coalition and in March 2015 began a military campaign against the Houthis.
Those efforts pushed the Houthis back and allowed Hadi and his government to return to Yemen but the country remains a humanitarian catastrophe. A ceasefire in mid-April preceded the talks in Kuwait.
However, the road to the talks was riddled with uncertainty and obstacles, with numerous false starts at getting meaningful diplomatic dialogue going between warring factions.
Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam on April 19th said on Facebook: “Each time we attempt to take a step forward despite difficulties to overcome the challenge of the aggression imposed on our Yemeni people, a crisis or massacre takes place.”
He said the UN five-point agenda for the Kuwait talks was not clear. Diplomatic sources asserted that the Houthis were also demanding an end to the naval blockade that has severely limited basic necessities from reaching beleaguered Yemeni civilians.
Official Yemeni sources said Hadi sent a message to Ould Cheikh Ahmed saying that requests by the Iran-allied rebels to modify the agenda of the talks would not be accepted.
With that backdrop, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdelmalik al-Mekhlafi warned against high expectations at the talks. “The Houthis and Saleh’s party, by refusing to arrive on the agreed time and by putting a series of conditions and by saying they reserve the right to boycott sessions if their conditions are not met — all of these have lowered the ceiling of expectations,” he said, adding that the Hadi government would do all it could to ensure the success of the talks.
The talks in Kuwait centre on the implementation of UN Resolution 2216, which calls for the Houthis to withdraw from areas seized since the start of the conflict in 2014 and to surrender heavy weaponry to the internationally recognised government.
Stressing the urgency of the talks, Saudi-led coalition spokesman Brigadier-General Ahmed Asseri told the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news channel: “Everybody knows that the way out in the end is political and the issue will not end through military means and the coalition has no desire to prolong the situation.”
Yemen has been on the brink of collapse for decades; however, the situation worsened with the 2011 “Arab spring” uprising, which led to Saleh’s resignation. The current crisis began in September 2014 when rebels seized Sana’a, forcing Hadi, who took over as president from Saleh, to flee. A Saudi-led Arab alliance intervened in March 2015, launching a military campaign against the Houthis in support of Hadi’s forces.