Yemen talks barely holding despite UN optimism

Sunday 29/05/2016
Yemeni artist painting graffiti

LONDON - Negotiations to end the war in Yemen have re­sumed but the Iran-al­lied Houthi delegation threatened to suspend its participation due to disagree­ments over the future of some of its leaders.

The issue involves discussions within the Coordination and De-escalation Committee, a body that includes members from both sides of the conflict and which is tasked with supporting the ceasefire. The newest sticking point being the fu­ture of what the government del­egation described as “coup leaders” and their role in the settlement pro­cess.

The rebel delegation was brought back to negotiations by UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who tried to stress the positives of the proceedings, declaring that a consensus was close to being reached.

“We are moving towards a general understanding that encompasses the expectations and visions of the parties,” Ould Cheikh Ahmed said in a statement. “The discussions have become more sensitive and delicate, bringing us closer to a comprehen­sive agreement.”

Yemeni political analyst Abdullah Ismail dismissed the comments by the UN envoy as mere spin.

“Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s statements do not differ from his previous ones, high on optimism but low on facts,” the analyst said, adding that flowery rhetoric by the UN envoy is an effort to delay an announcement that consultations have collapsed.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he wants to intensify the United Nations’ mediation role in the conflict.

“While both sides have commit­ted to reaching agreements in Ku­wait, there remain deep differences between the two sides that will need to be overcome in order to achieve a successful outcome,” Ban wrote in a letter to the UN Security Council.

Ban proposed expanding the UN peace mission to Yemen and mov­ing it to Amman from New York to strengthen the mediation process.

The Kuwait talks began April 21st, after a week’s delay in the ar­rival of the delegation represent­ing the Houthis and former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The sessions have been plagued with threats and walkouts from both sides but have reached agreement on some issues, such as prisoner ex­changes.

A walkout by government rep­resentatives was prompted by the rebel delegation’s refusal to recog­nise the legitimacy of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The govern­ment side was persuaded to give talks “one last chance” after signifi­cant pressure from Gulf officials.

The issue of the future of some Houthi leaders is tied to the rebels’ demand for an all-inclusive national unity government, which the inter­nationally recognised government rejects.

The issue of Yemen with Saleh in the mix is a non-starter for the Hadi government and the Saudi-led coa­lition fighting the rebels and their supporters.

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 Hadi’s UN-recognised government.

The war in Yemen has led to the death of more than 6,400 people, mostly civilians, and displaced about 2.8 million people. The coun­try is suffering a major humanitar­ian catastrophe, making resolution of the war a matter of the utmost urgency.