Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1293, (28 April - 4 May 2016)
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1293, (28 April - 4 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Quest for Yemeni peace in Kuwait

Yemeni peace talks are currently taking place in Kuwait, writes Ahmed Eleiba

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Al-Ahram Weekly

UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed appears to be the only person in the world who is optimistic about the current Yemeni talks. He is steering negotiations between the Yemeni government and the insurgent alliance of the Houthi militias and the forces of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The UN-sponsored talks are shaped by an agenda aimed at implementing the provisions of UN Security Council resolution 2216, which calls for a ceasefire, surrender of arms, the release of prisoners and the handover of government institutions to the legitimate authorities. “We have never been as close to peace as we are today,” Ould Cheikh Ahmed said, adding that the forthcoming weeks will be crucial in determining the outcome of the Yemeni peace process.

The disputants themselves, while still in Kuwait, are not nearly so optimistic. So far, no progress had been made. The Houthis insist that the Saudi-led coalition’s air raids have to stop before they take a seat at the negotiating table. “There can be no compromise on this demand,” a source accompanying the Houthi delegation told Al-Ahram Weekly. “There can be no talks with Saudi fighter jets flying overhead in Sanaa because that would mean we would be engaging in surrender talks.”

Asked whether the Houthis had struck deals with Riyadh in their talks with Saudi officials in Abha and Dhahran, the source replied, “The Houthis have come to an agreement with Saudi Arabia. But we cannot work toward an agreement with any party as long as the air raids have not been brought to a halt.”

This source’s remarks have important ramifications. For one, it appears that the Houthi movement has engaged in a separate settlement process without Saleh. This would certainly be worrisome for Saleh, the Houthis’ ally and the chief director of their drive to march on and seize control of Sanaa on 21 September 2014. Secondly, the majority of the forces that are still in the field are Saleh’s forces. These are located in the area of the Taiz-Jawf axis, though perhaps in Amran there is a higher percentage of Houthi forces for fear that the military balance in that area might shift in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood. In either case, rebel forces and militias are still stationed at strategic positions, which means that they could resume fighting.

A number of inferences by the source in Kuwait suggest that there is a perception that the talks in Kuwait will unfold over a series of rounds and phases and that it will be a long time before an agreement is reached. For example, he suggested a possible process of breaking down negotiating positions into different parts and addressing each one individually in order to bridge the gaps. As this would take time, one could predict that many more rounds will take place in the same negotiating process in Kuwait.

On Monday, the UN Security Council asked the Houthi-Saleh forces to hand over government institutions to the Yemeni government, to resume the political process and to withdraw from the cities, surrendering their arms within 30 days. The Security Council also called on the Yemeni people to work with the ceasefire coordinating committee in order to halt all breaches of the truce the better to facilitate the implementation of the five points outlined in UN SC resolution 2216. In addition, the Council asked UN Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon to submit a detailed plan within 30 days specifying the ways in which the UN Envoy to Yemen can assist the Yemeni parties in moving towards peace. In this regard, the Security Council also released a statement calling on all Yemeni parties to “develop a roadmap for carrying out temporary security measures, especially at the local level: the withdrawals, the handover of heavy weaponry and the restoration of government institutions”.

The Security Council statement was released three days after Ould Cheikh Ahmed delivered his report to the Council on progress in the talks. In that meeting he stated that there had been a noticeable decrease in the level of violence and that the truce was holding in spite of breaches. He praised Saudi efforts for maintaining calm along the border with Yemen and urged persistent efforts aimed at reaching a comprehensive solution. Indicating that breaches occurred particularly in Jawf, Taiz, Maareb and Amran, he expressed his regret that the local ceasefire monitoring committees were unable to carry out their duties on the ground. He also noted that civilians in Taiz were still vulnerable to bombardment.

Speaking to the Weekly from Taiz, newspaper editor-in-chief Abdel-Aziz Al-Majidi confirmed that the city was still subject to intermittent missile fire. “There is an impression that the militias do not want to leave Taiz so as to keep it as a bargaining chip rather than a negotiating card to be used in the event that negotiations in Kuwait should start in a serious framework.”

On the other hand, another sudden development in the field came as a surprise to many observers: the coalition forces’ surprise attack against Al-Qaeda in the port of Mukalla, which Al-Qaeda has controlled for over a year. Yemeni news sources relate that the drive to liberate that city began when forces loyal to the internationally recognised Yemeni government launched an attack on strategic positions, forcing Al-Qaeda elements to withdraw and flee westwards into the Hadramawt desert and the neighbouring Shabwa province.

President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi charged that those elements were connected with the former regime. The greater surprise occurred when the coalition forces announced that they had killed 800 Al-Qaeda members while only seven members of the national army were killed and 14 wounded. This occurred in the course of a single day, which is how long it took to liberate the city.

The official account of this victory has met with some scepticism. According to some reports, Al-Qaeda forces have carried out at least two bomb attacks against government forces forcing them to retreat from their pursuit of Al-Qaeda elements fleeing toward Hadramawt. Military officials counter that there are plans for a ground intervention to comb the city and secure control over it.

The move against Al-Qaeda in Yemen was set into motion after the Riyadh summit, which broached the subject of the need to combat terrorism in Yemen.

In addition to the above-mentioned offensive, the national army operating with the support of air cover supplied by the US includes Apache helicopters. The air strikes by the Arab coalition succeeded in penetrating the area to the south of Zinjibar and the killing of 25 Al-Qaeda fighters in battles that took place earlier this week.

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