Gulf News

Ye­men talks set for to­day

CAU­TIOUS OP­TI­MISM AS CON­FI­DENCE BUILD­ING MEA­SURES IN FO­CUS AT UN-BACKED TALKS

- BY RA­MADAN AL SHERBINI Cor­re­spon­dent

Swe­den ne­go­ti­a­tions last chance for peace and re­gional se­cu­rity

UN spe­cial en­voy to Ye­men Martin Grif­fiths must be glad to have even­tu­ally suc­ceeded in bring­ing Ye­men’s war­ring fac­tions to the ta­ble in Swe­den.

A del­e­ga­tion from Ye­men’s le­git­i­mate govern­ment left for Swe­den yes­ter­day to at­tend peace talks with mem­bers of the Iran-backed Al Houthi mili­tia, in a re­newed UN push to end a war that has brought eco­nomic ruin and famine.

Although the talks have hith­erto been in­di­rect, the mere idea of hav­ing the govern­ment and Al Houthi mil­i­tants in one place is a break­through for the for­mer Bri­tish di­plo­mat.

The peace talks, ex­pected to kick off as early as to­day, will be Ye­men’s first in more than two years. An at­tempt by Grif­fiths last Septem­ber to restart peace­mak­ing in Ye­men fiz­zled out af­ter the Al Houthi del­e­ga­tion failed to ap­pear in Geneva, the venue of the talks at the time.

Will talks suc­ceed this time?

Pre­vi­ous UN ef­forts to end Ye­men’s dev­as­tat­ing war went nowhere. How­ever, there are rea­sons for op­ti­mism that the Swe­den gath­er­ing will make a dif­fer­ence, ac­cord­ing to some an­a­lysts.

“A lot of wa­ter has flown un­der the bridge since the failed rounds of ne­go­ti­a­tions in Kuwait [in 2016] and Geneva last Septem­ber,” said Ad­nan Man­sour, a Ye­meni po­lit­i­cal ex­pert liv­ing in Cairo. “The sit­u­a­tion on the ground is largely in favour of the le­git­i­macy forces,” Man­sour told Gulf News, re­fer­ring to govern­ment forces backed by an Arab coali­tion against Al Houthis.

What is the cur­rent ground sit­u­a­tion?

In re­cent months, govern­ment forces, sup­ported by the coali­tion’s air power, have made ad­vances against the rebels on sev­eral bat­tle­fronts, mainly in the Red Sea city of Hodeida.

The mili­tia-held city in west Ye­men is strate­gi­cally im­por­tant be­cause of its port, through which most of the im­pov­er­ished coun­try’s im­ports and hu­man­i­tar­ian aid en­ter.

“The mil­i­tary set­backs Al Houthis have suf­fered in the past months have clearly prompted them to bow to in­ter­na­tional pres­sure to sit at the ta­ble to talk peace,” said Man­sour.

Al Houthis have plunged Ye­men into de­struc­tive chaos since 2014 when they top­pled the in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised govern­ment and over­ran the cap­i­tal Sana’a. Months later, the Arab al­liance led by the UAE and Saudi Ara­bia in­ter­vened in re­sponse to a re­quest from the Ye­meni govern­ment.

In the lead-up to the Swe­den talks, the al­liance in a ges­ture of good­will agreed to the evac­u­a­tion of in­jured rebels for med­i­cal treat­ment in Oman. An ini­tial pact on a pris­oner swap was also reached be­tween the govern­ment and the mil­i­tants through UN me­di­a­tion.

“All these steps raise hopes that the forth­com­ing talks will boost con­fi­dence be­tween both sides and put peace ef­forts back on track,” added Man­sour.”I think the main aim of con­sul­ta­tions will be to deepen this con­fi­dence build­ing.”

What is the UN en­voy seek­ing?

Sources close to the talks say the UN en­voy will push for fur­ther con­fi­dence-build­ing steps from both sides in Swe­den. They in­clude end­ing the Al Houthi siege of the south-western city of Taiz, the al­liance’s re­open­ing of the rebel-held Sana’a air­port, and head­ing off an all-out of­fen­sive in Hodeida as well as fa­cil­i­tat­ing aid de­liv­er­ies, they said.

What does the le­git­i­mate govern­ment want?

“The govern­ment seems ready for re­cip­ro­cal con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sures and get­ting the whole process in mo­tion again in or­der to end the war. But I think it will not budge on its de­mand that Al Houthi mili­tias

hand over the Hodeida port,” ar­gued Man­sour. A mem­ber of the govern­ment team to the Swe­den talks said they will do their best to make them suc­ceed. “We con­sider the con­sul­ta­tions a real chance for peace,” tweeted Ab­dul­lah Al Laimi. “We are deeply in­ter­ested in mak­ing use of it in or­der to spare our peo­ple more havoc caused by the coup mili­tias,” he added.

Cause for con­cern

Some Ye­meni of­fi­cials have, mean­while, warned against the

A sus­tain­able Ye­meni led po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion of­fers the best chance to end­ing the cur­rent cri­sis. A sta­ble state, im­por­tant for the re­gion, can­not co­ex­ist with un­law­ful mili­tias.

Dr An­war Gar­gash| UAE State Min­is­ter

col­lapse of the talks. “I be­lieve that con­sul­ta­tions in Swe­den will be the last chance: ei­ther peace or more fight,” said Ab­dul Aziz Al Jabari, an ad­viser to Ye­meni Pres­i­dent Abd Rabbo Man­sour Hadi.“It will be dif­fi­cult to hold an­other round in case this round fails.”

Of­fi­cials in the Arab al­liance sound the same alarm. One of them is UAE Min­is­ter of State for For­eign Af­fairs Dr An­war Gar­gash, who called the Swe­den talks “crit­i­cal”.

“Evac­u­at­ing wounded Houthi fight­ers from Sana’a once again demon­strates the Ye­meni Govern­ment & the Arab Coali­tion’s sup­port for peace. We be­lieve Swe­den of­fers a crit­i­cal op­por­tu­nity to suc­cess­fully en­gage in a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion for Ye­men,” Gar­gash tweeted this week.

“A sus­tain­able Ye­meni led po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion of­fers the best chance to end­ing the cur­rent cri­sis. A sta­ble state, im­por­tant for the re­gion, can­not co­ex­ist with un­law­ful mili­tias. UNSCR 2216 of­fers a work­able road map,” he added. Is­sued in 2015 by the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, res­o­lu­tion 2216 calls for an Al Houthi with­drawal from the ar­eas they have seized since the late 2014 coup and sur­ren­der of heavy weapons.

The mili­tia has low­ered ex­pec­ta­tions for a ma­jor break­through in Swe­den, though.

Head of the Al Houthi team to Swe­den Mo­ham­mad Ab­dul Salam said his group is not con­fi­dent that the talks will be suc­cess­ful. He added in a Face­book post that Al Houthis will “not stand by hand­cuffed if the con­sul­ta­tions” do not go well, a veiled threat of re­newed mil­i­tary es­ca­la­tion.

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