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Who, apart from its people, wants peace in Yemen?

Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis march in support of a new combined governing council immediately rejected by government based in Aden and UN. Sanaa, August 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed). All rights reserved.Following the collapse on August 6 of the Kuwait
negotiations between Hadi’s internationally recognised government in exile on
the one hand and the Huthi-Saleh alliance on the other, diplomatic activity to
bring the war to an end has notably increased, particularly on the part of the
external actors.  How serious are their
efforts? Will they achieve anything? Meanwhile the living conditions for
Yemenis continue to deteriorate.

Increased international attention

The main changes are at the international level where, as a
result of increasing pressure from human rights organisations, US, UK and French
arms sales to Saudi Arabia have been challenged in response to the
indiscriminate killing of civilians throughout Yemen. Given
that US and UK military personnel were widely described as helping to ensure
accurate targeting, their competence and the quality of their advice are now
questionable after the destruction of four MSF-supported hospitals…

It is, however, sad to note that the situation has finally
come to public attention not due to concern for Yemen or Yemenis, but rather as
a means to attack western states for their relations with the repressive Saudi
Arabian regime. This pressure has not prevented more sales and the US announced
last month the sale of 153 tanks including ‘twenty battle damage replacements
for their existing fleet’.  Outcries about
weapons sales have led to the Netherlands and EU decisions to stop them. In the
UK the Campaign Against the Arms Trade has achieved a judicial review against
the Government’s decision to continue arms exports to Saudi Arabia which is
likely to take place early next year[1].

This was partly thanks to the considerable evidence
that many of the civilians killed and wounded in Yemen by the Saudi-led
coalition’s airstrikes have been hit by British manufactured weapons and
ammunition in violation of international humanitarian law. Similar pressure has
come from some US Congress representatives in Washington, which may explain the
withdrawal of the majority [40 out of 45] of US personnel from the ‘Joint
Combined Planning Cell’[2]
established at the beginning of the Saudi-led offensive. 

Given that US and UK military personnel were widely
described as helping to ensure accurate targeting, their competence and the
quality of their advice are now questionable after the destruction of four
MSF-supported hospitals, hundreds of other medical facilities and schools, as
well as food processing factories and food storage belonging to private
companies, the public sector or, indeed, humanitarian organisations. The UN
have just upped their death toll to over 10,000 but this, again, only includes
recorded deaths in medical facilities, ignoring those elsewhere, let alone all
those dying from lack of medication or treatment for chronic disease due to the
shortage of medicines resulting from the blockade.

View from Sana’a

Back to recent developments: the widely predicted collapse
of the talks demonstrated the unwillingness of the parties to compromise,
continuing to prioritise their personal, political and financial interests over
those of the Yemeni people at large. “These people
are not even thinking of leaving. Where will they go? They have begun to
assemble simple solar systems, which most people now depend on.[3]” 

One recent returnee wrote a moving piece well worth reading,
about how people are surviving and helping each other regardless of the war:
“most people neither know nor care about the war and its politics. They care
about their lives. It was dark at home. There has been no electricity since the
war started. Everything was covered in thick dust, and the windows and doors were
broken because of the shockwaves from air strikes… Next morning, I realised
that many of my neighbours were still there, refusing to leave. Local figures
and charities were working together, reopening old wells in the city. They
started to put small public water tanks in the different neighbourhoods for
people to drink and use. These people are not even thinking of leaving. Where
will they go? They have begun to assemble simple solar systems, which most
people now depend on.[4]” 

Shortly before the end of the Kuwait talks, Sana’a witnessed
an important and worrying development. 
The Higher Revolutionary Committee set up by the Huthi as the top ruling
institution in the country in early 2015 was formally replaced by a Supreme
Political Council composed of 5 senior Huthi and General People’s Congress
Saleh supporters each.[5]
In theory, the establishment of this council ends formal Huthi control and
replaces it with an institution jointly loyal to the Huthi leadership and Saleh.
 This indicates a weakening of the Huthis
within the alliance. In plain English, as the GPC members of this council are
100% loyal to him, Saleh is now explicitly back in the driving seat and
controls at least half of the decision-making body in the area controlled by
their joint forces, an area which may represent no more than 25% or so of
Yemen’s surface, but well over 60% of its population. 

However implementation of this change is faltering, and the
Revolutionary Council is still functioning, demonstrating Huthi resistance to
Saleh’s pressure and continuing uncertainty about the balance of power in this
unholy alliance. Air strikes killed at least three
people on the margins of this truly vast demonstration, only comparable to the
largest demonstrations of the 2011 popular uprisings.

Despite this, war weariness and opposition to the Saudi-led
coalition bombing have ensured popular support, as shown by a mass
demonstration on 20 August in Sana’a, when well over 100 000 people came out
despite coalition aircraft threatening overflights; air strikes killed at least
three people on the margins of this truly vast demonstration, only comparable
to the largest demonstrations of the 2011 popular uprisings. While some
certainly turned up under pressure from Saleh and the Huthi leadership, there
is no way that this could explain such a turnout.

Liberated areas

The internationally recognised ‘legitimate’ government of
president Hadi is officially in control of all the area of the former People’s
Democratic Republic of Yemen, and some parts of north-east Yemen including
Mareb, where many troops are based. A few ministers operate from the officially
designated temporary capital of Aden, while the majority are in Riyadh or on
various international jaunts.  The Prime
Minister has spent only 45 days in Aden since his appointment in early April,
while President Hadi himself has spent all of 87 days in Aden since its liberation
at the end July last year, and has not set foot there since mid-February this
year.

Moreover, the legitimate authority’s control of the areas it
claims is debatable: with respect to Aden, there is little doubt that
ministers’ absence is largely a self-preservation measure, given that suicide
attacks are a daily occurrence in the city, the latest major one on August 29
killed over 70 young men signing up for recruitment to join the forces protecting
the Saudi borders from Huthi-Saleh incursions. 
Attempts and actual assassinations of political and military leaders are
frequent, electricity and water supplies are irregular and are dependent on
emergency equipment brought and financed by the United Arab Emirates forces.

Much of the rest of the southern governorates is run by
local community leaders, whether tribal or other, extremely few of whom claim
any allegiance to Hadi or his government. They are either waiting for a
credible government or they support southern separatism, which Hadi firmly
rejects. While claims that jihadis [whether Al Qaeda or Daesh] control much of
this part of the country are largely incorrect as they have been driven out of most
villages and towns where they used to dominate the political/military scene,
they do have a presence. 

Old and new war tactics

Unsurprisingly, the end of the Kuwait negotiations have
resulted in a substantial increase of Saudi-led coalition air forces airstrikes
throughout Yemen, both in number and targets, with over 100 airstrikes on some
days. Plenty more examples can be given. But
basically the military stalemate and pointless killing continue.

Sana’anis who had lived for a full 5 months without strikes
are now being bombed daily, with the same sites hit again and again: if any
weapons are still stored in those mountains, they are obviously out of reach.
Ta’izz city and governorate continue to be torn apart by ground fighting and
airstrikes. The same situation prevails on the usual fronts [Nehm about 60km
east of Sana’a, the Saudi border.  A new
development has been direct strikes on southern areas said to shelter Al Qaeda
or Daesh militants, where previously only US drones were active in those areas.
Targeting is as efficient as ever, with the fourth MSF hospital destroyed on 15
August in Abs, on the plain of Hajja Governorate suffering the highest death
toll of such strikes, (19 dead and 24 injured), only two days after a school
had been hit in that governorate, killing at least 10 children. Plenty more
examples can be given. But basically the military stalemate and pointless
killing continue.

The Hadi government in exile is trying alternative tactics
to bring the Saleh-Huthi opposition to heel. 
These come in two forms: the widely denounced blockade which prevents
basic fuel, food and medical supplies from reaching the population, has resulted
in the current situation with over half the population ‘food insecure’, and 7
million suffering severe food insecurity, ie close to starvation. Remember that
Yemen imports 90% of its wheat and 100% of other staples such as rice, tea and
sugar.  Hence the blockade which is
widely denied, but actually enforced, plays a major role in worsening the humanitarian
catastrophe.  In Yemen, as in so many
other wars, basic human needs are used as weapons by the warring factions. In the current situation… over half the population [is] ‘food
insecure’, and 7 million suffering severe food insecurity, ie close to
starvation.

Another aspect of the blockade is the control of Yemeni
airspace by the Saudi regime: no flights in or out of Yemen can take place without
prior clearance from the Saudi military and most have a stopover in Bisha where
Saudi forces check on all passengers and cargo; so while there are flights in
and out of Aden, Mukalla and Seiyun in the south, Sana’a airport has been
closed for weeks.

Even UN flights were forbidden for a whole week when the
Huthi-Saleh alliance re-called Parliament to approve their new Political
Council. Preventing members from returning to Sana’a was intended to ensure the
meeting would be inquorate, but this tactic failed. Although UN flights and
other humanitarian flights travel on a case by case basis, members of the
Sana’a delegation to Kuwait have now been stranded in Muscat for almost a
month, as the UN has been unable to guarantee their safe return to Sana’a,
something which does little to improve confidence in the UN’s mediation role or
its credibility. A third form the war is taking now
is the attempt by the ‘legitimate’ government to prevent the Central Bank from
functioning.

A third form the war is taking now is the attempt by the
‘legitimate’ government to prevent the Central Bank from functioning. Having
successfully remained neutral, the Central Bank of Yemen somehow managed to
continue paying salaries to civil servants and military personnel on all sides
throughout the war, despite its reserves having collapsed from USD 5 billion to
less than USD 1 billion in the last 12 months. 
Without addressing the issue of where these funds came from, this has
been quite an achievement. 

The Hadi government has recently been trying to relocate the
bank to Aden and replace its senior officials. Even the regime’s international
supporters such as the US and UK have expressed concern at this move and, to
date, the IMF and other financial institutions have ignored it. If implemented,
its main consequence would clearly be a dramatic worsening of the food and fuel
situation within the country, in other words, more hunger, starvation and
death, given that importers are already facing extreme difficulties in
obtaining the letters of credit they need to import basic commodities and
emigrants also face many hurdles in sending remittances to help their families.

In conclusion, the meeting on 25 August in Jeddah bringing
together US Secretary of State Kerry, UK’s Ellwood, UN envoy Ismail with the
foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and the GCC, was intended to re-launch talks.
While rumours of a new initiative have circulated, it would seem that they
expressed hope rather than fact. The Hadi side continues to insist that the
Huthi-Saleh forces must first withdraw their forces from the cities and hand over
their heavy weapons to an undefined and unknown neutral ‘third party’,
something which the Huthi-Saleh side consider equivalent to surrender and which
fails to recognise their actual control of much of the country’s area and most
of its population. 

They demand that a consensus government be formed prior to
any military withdrawal. While Kerry’s statement hinted that the two might
happen simultaneously, this issue has not been addressed adequately. The UN SC
meeting on August 31 also failed to produce anything meaningful and the UN
special envoy is back on his travels, which may help the Huthi-Saleh delegation
to get home.  Meanwhile bombing and
fighting continue, more people are killed and wounded, more are hungry and
suffer from preventable diseases and lack treatment, and there are increasingly
critical articles in various international media….


[1]  See   https://opendemocracy.net/uk/andrew-smith/even-saudi-arabia-accepts-that-saudi-forces-are-killing-civilians-in-yemen-so-why-is ‘Even Saudi Arabia accepts that Saudi forces are
killing civilians in Yemen, so why is the UK still
arming the regime?’ 01 09 16  Andrew Smith

[2] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-usa-saudiarabia-idUSKCN10U1TL

[3]  https://www.insightonconflict.org/blog/2016/08/portrait-war-returning-home-yemen/

[4]  https://www.insightonconflict.org/blog/2016/08/portrait-war-returning-home-

[5]  Just in case this had escaped your attention,
Saleh was the autocratic leader forced to quit in early 2012 as a result of the
mass demonstrations throughout 2011 which brought about the Gulf Cooperation
Council Agreement in November 2011.

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