Cairo: 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 Saudi-backed government left for Sweden on Wednesday to attend peace talks with members of the Iran-aligned 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 Thursday, will be Yemen’s first in more than two years. An attempt by Griffiths last September to restart peacemaking in Yemen fizzled out after 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 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.
“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 a 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 for sitting 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.
14mYemenis are at risk of starvation, according to UN agencies
Months later, the Arab alliance led by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, intervened in Yemen in response to a request from the government. The war has pushed the country to the brink of starvation and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the UN.
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 Al Houthi siege of the south-western city of Taiz, the alliance’s reopening of the rebel-controlled Sana’a airport, and heading off an all-out offensive in Hodeida as well as facilitating humanitarian aid deliveries in the country, they said.
What the legitimate government wants
“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 render them successful. “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 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,” Al Jabari added.
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”.
10000people have been killed in the conflict, WHO says
“Evacuating wounded Houthi fighters from Sana 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 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 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 that Al Houthis will “not stand by handcuffed if the consultations” do not go well, a veiled threat of renewed military escalation.