Monday,23 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1306, (4 - 10 August 2016)
Monday,23 July, 2018
Issue 1306, (4 - 10 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Yemen talks collapse in Kuwait

Efforts to salvage months-long Yemen negotiations in Kuwait appear to have failed

Al-Ahram Weekly

After four months of on-off negotiations in Kuwait to end the Yemeni conflict, the talks appear to have collapsed. Although no party has come out to announce the end of the negotiations, the impasse was reaffirmed twice this week.

As Al-Ahram Weekly was going to press Tuesday evening, the delegation representing the internationally recognised government of Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi had left the talks to Riyadh where Hadi is in exile.

Yemeni Foreign Minister and head of the government’s delegation Abdulmalik Al-Mekhlafi said he left Kuwait to consult with Hadi, but did not quit the talks.

The talks, which began in April were meant to reach a political solution to end the 16-month long conflict in Yemen since Saudi Arabia launched a military offensive there in efforts to restore Hadi to power after he was ousted by the Houthi rebel group.

The Hadi government is demanding the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2216 that stipulates the withdrawal of militias from all cities they seized and to refrain from further unilateral actions that threaten the political transition. The Houthis want the Saudi-led offensive to stop before committing to the resolution, and also a share of power in a transitional government.

The Houthis, who are based in northern Yemen, seized Sanaa in September 2014 and later placed President Hadi under house arrest. He fled to the south, prompting the Houthis to chase him down, capturing various provinces as they advanced, including the strategic port city of Aden. Hadi escaped to Saudi Arabia in March 2015 where his government remains in exile.

The Houthis are followers of the Zaidi sect, a branch of Shia Islam that brought them closer to Shia Iran, their regional ally and Saudi Arabia’s rival. They are allies with former Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh.

Attempts to hold serious talks to reach a political solution to the conflict date back to the early months following the Saudi-led coalition’s offensive last year, but it was Hadi who appeared less interested in a diplomatic exit, at a time when Riyadh felt it could win the war by expanding it.

The war has divided the country, both literally and figuratively, as it descended to more violence. It has bolstered Al-Qaeda’s presence in Yemen after they seized the southern city of Al-Mukalla last year until Emirati troops drove them out in April. A branch of the Islamic State group also surfaced in the south and has carried out deadly operations that have far exceeded Al-Qaeda’s level of violence.

Today Saudi Arabia is no closer to restoring Hadi to power in Yemen — or “liberating” Sanaa — than it was when he fled to Riyadh 16 months ago. Now it is Hadi’s government, supported by Riyadh, that favours a political exit.

Cross-border attacks from Yemen on Saudi Arabia have spiked recently. On Monday, a missile struck the home of a Saudi family killing four members in the southern region of Jizan. The attack came a day after seven Saudi border guards were killed in a cross border clash with militants from Yemen, according to the Saudi-led coalition.

With the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia’s main Arab ally in the war, strategically focused on parts of south Yemen (Abu Dhabi’s crown prince declared “war over for our troops” in June) and the remaining members of the original alliance seemingly absent from the scene, Riyadh does not appear to be receiving significant help from its friends to end the war.

Oman, the only Gulf monarchy that did not participate in the war, recently hinted that it was a mistake for Riyadh to lead the offensive in Yemen.

“It is not acceptable for an Arab country to get mired in a particular war in a particular place and then come to the Arabs to say that you now have the responsibility to get me out of this crisis, because they did not consult other Arab countries,” Oman’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Yousuf Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah, said last week on the sidelines of the Arab Summit in Mauritania.

The Houthis — who still control Sanaa — on the other hand have demonstrated less commitment to the political roadmaps proposed to end the war. As talks were taking place in Kuwait earlier last Thursday, they announced the formation of a formal alliance with Saleh and his party by creating a political council to rule the country. The deal prompted the Hadi government delegation to quit the talks.

The talks presumably resumed following renewed efforts by Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the UN’s special envoy to the talks. The UN envoy proposed a UN plan for a political dialogue between the Hadi government and the Houthi rebels that would take place 45 days after the latter’s withdrawal from Sanaa and other cities they captured since 2014.

The proposal — which appeared to echo Resolution 2216 — directs the rebels to hand over their weapons to a military committee formed by Hadi and free prisoners of war. The Hadi government welcomed the plan while the Houthis rejected the proposal, which they described as a media stunt.

Al-Mekhalfi, the head of the government delegation who left Kuwait Monday, said that they would return if the Houthis accepted the plan, which observers say is unlikely.

Impatient with the lack of progress, Kuwait said it would stop hosting the negotiations on 6 August.

In a statement, the UN envoy said the talks would continue. “We agreed with the parties to keep the talks ongoing until we agree on next steps in the coming days which shall be dedicated to intensive meetings” with the Houthi’s political wing, the Ansar Allah Movement and Saleh’s General People’s Congress as well as international diplomats, he said. The Houthis said they would stay in Kuwait.

More than 6,000 people have been killed in the fighting and 2.8 million Yemenis displaced from their homes. Even before the war, Yemen was the poorest Arab country; today at least 80 per cent of the population is in urgent need of humanitarian aid.

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