A possible truce brings a glimmer of hope to Yemen
The UN and Oman have brought the government and rebels closer to the negotiating table. Saudis released 13 Houthi prisoners. A ceasefire could be announced before the end of the month. Some major issues must still be dealt with before peace is achieved. Meanwhile, other players, like al-Qaeda, could play troublemakers.
Milan (AsiaNews) – After years of a brutal war forgotten by the international community and western powers, there are some glimmers of hope that Yemen might finally find some peace or at least a truce with an exchange of prisoners.
A Yemeni government official spoke to that effect following a meeting between Saudi and Omani officials and Iranian-backed Houthi leaders in Sana'a, China’s Xinhua reports.
This follows a long period of tensions and a stalemate in negotiations that saw the United Nations try to find a way to end the Yemen conflict to little avail. Neighbouring Oman has also tried to mediate between the parties.
The recent Chinese-brokered Saudi-Iranian rapprochement appears to have paved the way for revived diplomatic activity in the region, in Yemen but also elsewhere.
The meeting in the Yemeni capital on Sunday is the first between senior Houthi and Saudi officials in the presence of Omani representatives.
Saudi ambassador to Yemen Mohammed bin Saeed Al-Jaber said that the meeting was intended to revive a previous truce and resume negotiations. As a result, a prisoners’ exchange might be in the cards, ahead of a “sustainable and comprehensive political solution in Yemen."
Yemen's internationally recognised government welcomed the latest efforts. “The atmosphere is more favourable than any time before to restore peace in Yemen,” said Information Minister Moammar al-Eryani in a statement.
Achieving peace would be “a victory for constitutional legitimacy and the Saudi-led coalition,” he added, noting that the recent Saudi-Iranian deal to resume diplomatic ties “has made the atmosphere favourable for achieving peace.”
Last week, the Yemeni government said that it had agreed with Houthi rebels to extend a previous truce by six months to one year. According to various sources, a deal should be announced before the end of the month.
A recent prisoners’ exchange is the first sign that this time the parties might be serious about finding a solution. A Houthi official, Abdul-Qader el-Murtaza, said that 13 Houthi prisoners were released in exchange for a Saudi prisoner.
The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross brokered an exchange last month in Switzerland, involving a total of 887 detainees.
Repeated diplomatic failures to stop a war that began in 2014 has caused the "worst humanitarian crisis in the world”, with 400,000 deaths, including 11,000 children, compounded by the “devastating" impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Presently, millions of people are on the brink of starvation and children are likely to suffer the consequences for decades. More than three million Yemenis are internally displaced persons, most living in conditions of poverty, hunger and epidemics, like cholera.
The war itself has not seen any major changes on the ground. The Houthis (Ansar Allah) hold one third of the country with two-thirds of the population. The main front is in Marib governorate where the pro-Iranian rebels have launched an offensive that has met with tough government resistance.
To rule, the rebels have not hesitated from using violence, with no respect for human rights. Dissenters have been summarily tried, jailed and executed, minors included.
Children have been forcibly drafted to fight by both sides.
In Houthi-held areas, there is no freedom of expression and journalists have been arrested and punished. Women have seen their rights and freedoms curtailed, placed under a male "guardian", a situation that has blocked the work of humanitarian groups.
A year ago, timid attempts were made to prop up a tentative truce and reduce the suffering of the population.
The UN special envoy Hans Grundberg, appointed in September 2021, was able to get the parties to agree to a two-month truce, which was renewed for six, followed by the start of negotiations.
At the same time, Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansur Hadi was replaced by an eight-member Presidential Leadership Council (PLC), after a ten-year rule.
However, the UN-brokered truce expired on 2 October and was not renewed. As fighting resumed, the two sides blamed each other for the failure of negotiations.
Speaking to the AP news agency, Grundberg praised the ongoing diplomatic efforts, in particular the meeting over the weekend between Houthis, Saudis and Omanis, which constitutes “the closest Yemen has been to real progress towards lasting peace" since the war began.
“This is a moment to be seized and built on and a real opportunity to start an inclusive political process under UN auspices to sustainably end the conflict," he explained.
Ahmed Nagi, a Yemen expert at the International Crisis Group, said that the Iran-Saudi Arabia rapprochement has boosted Saudi-Houthi talks, and that both sides are close to announcing the truce’s renewal.
However, the second track of the Houthi-Saudi negotiations is still a major challenge. "Each party has different interpretations and expectations," he noted. "Given the complexities of the situation, it is hard to see progress on this track very soon."
The terms of any deal have not been made public, but they are expected to include a commitment to pay public employees’ wages and reopen all ports and airports, as well as more ambitious goals, such as rebuilding the country, the departure of foreign forces, and an agreement on a political transition. All of these have been stumbling blocks in the past.
Yemen’s civil war is complicated by the presence of multiple actors; even a peace deal between Houthis and the pro-Saudi government may not be enough to stop fighting and bring relief to an exhausted population.
Other players, like al-Qaeda and South Yemen separatists once supported by the United Arab Emirates have their own agenda. Talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia might not be enough.
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