Yemen war: What Will the New Year Hold?
By: Lyse Doucet
”I sincerely hope that we are living the beginning of the end of one of the biggest tragedies of the 21st Century,” reflected a beaming UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the end of a week of Yemen peace talks in a secluded Swedish castle.
The war has brought millions in Yemen close to starvation.
In front of the world’s cameras, Yemeni rivals smiled too, shaking hands, with a bit of help, from the UN chief.
”I told the UN Secretary General there is no need for him to help bring us closer,” Yemen’s Foreign Minister Khalid al-Yamany later posted on his Twitter account about this crucial clasp. ”This is my brother, despite his coup against the state, and the destruction of the homeland which caused this human tragedy.”
As 2018 drew to a close, the image of a Yemeni government minister and a senior Houthi official shaking hands on a deal, which included a surprising ceasefire in the strategic port city of Hudaydah, shot like an electric current around the world.
The process, led by the UN’s third Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths, marked the most significant breakthrough in five years of talks.
”Have you seen the video of the handshake?” exclaimed a Yemeni friend, who added a bright happy emoji to her post sent on the WhatsApp messaging service.
Congratulatory statements cascaded from a multitude of aid agencies who’d been sounding the alarm for months about the world’s worst humanitarian crisis becoming, unimaginably, even worse.
But behind this Swedish moment, which provoked a rare hashtag of #Hope on social media, lies deep distrust. It still keeps warring sides and their backers a long way from peace.
No sooner did the talks end, the Houthis described the Yemeni government as the ”UAE-Saudi controlled delegation.” And Yemeni government officials privately accused their rivals aligned with Iran of negotiating in bad faith.
The “immediate ceasefire” in Hudaydah was soon broken. The truce is now largely holding, but imperfectly so, with each side accusing the other of violating it. No one expects it to be smooth, simple, or straightforward.
The news from Sweden was exceptionally good. In part, that’s because any news from Yemen has been extraordinarily bad.
It happened because of a new international focus on Yemen’s dire plight. It was present inside the sprawling Swedish castle and on phone lines to capitals which can make all the difference on the battlefield.
”We were blessed,” a senior UN official tells me with palpable relief.
And discussions between Yemeni enemies brought them a bit closer. ”We ate together, talked together, and we created a bit of warmth by sharing jokes about the cold weather,” a member of the Yemeni government delegation explains.
Other breakthroughs included the mechanics of a mass prisoner exchange which, if implemented, will bring joy and relief to thousands of families. An ”understanding” was also reached to discuss a punishing siege on the south-western city of Taiz.
But, as Peter Salisbury of the International Crisis Group points out, the agreements reached in Stockholm “reflect a strong humanitarian impulse rather than strategic calculations.” There was no consensus in Stockholm on the parameters of a road map towards peace.
The UK’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt admits that while “there was light at the end of the tunnel, Yemen was still very much in the tunnel.”
A major litmus test will be the critical ceasefire in the port city of Hudaydah, the vital lifeline for humanitarian aid which helps feed nearly two-thirds of Yemen’s population.
A United Nations Redeployment Committee is now on the ground, headed by a UN military expert, the former Dutch general Patrick Cammaert, and includes members from the warring sides.
The original source of this article is CNN.The views expressed in this article belong to the author.