“Although [the talks in Sweden were] the first successful negotiation, an agreement without the reopening of the Sana’a International Airport, the paying of government staff salaries, and the neutralization of the Central Bank is meaningless.” — Yemeni journalist Mohammed al-Asadi
SANA’A, YEMEN — (Report) Last week’s peace talks in Sweden between the Saudi-led coalition and Yemen’s Houthis was cause for celebration for many the world-over who hoped to finally see an end to Yemen’s bloody war. But many of Yemen’s people hedging their bets and have expressed frustration over the results of the week-long talks in Rimbo, talks that leaders on both sides of the conflict viewed as a victory.
Mohammed Fayed — a 45-year-old displaced father originally from the Saada province, who now resides in Sana’a — told MintPress that the agreement reached in Sweden could not end three years of war on Yemen, especially in Hodeida.
Mohammed al-Asadi, a Yemeni journalist, said:
Although it was the first successful negotiation, an agreement without the reopening of the Sana’a International Airport, the paying of government staff salaries, and the neutralization of the Central Bank is meaningless.”
The failure to reopen the Sana’a International Airport has been a sticking point in negotiations and, according to many Yemenis, will result in the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians — including children — in Yemen’s northern districts, as the airport is one of the primary conduits used by Yemenis to travel abroad for critical medical care unavailable in Yemen. The Saudi coalition has imposed a years-long blockade on the Sana’a Airport.
Before the war began, thousands of Yemenis traveled abroad — mostly through the Sana’a Airport — for medical treatment each year; 60 percent of the patients were women and children. Saudi Arabia’s ongoing blockade of Yemen includes medical supplies and means that the number of patients requiring life-saving overseas treatment will grow.
On Saturday an 11-year-old boy, Mohammed Nasser, died a result of kidney failure. He was unable to travel out of Yemen through the southern districts that are under Saudi-led coalition control. Like Mohammed, about 200,000 patients in the south districts — including cancer, heart, and renal-failure patients — need to travel outside of Yemen to seek life-saving treatment.
Saudi coalition representatives have insisted on relocating Yemen’s international airport to coalition-controlled Aden, relegating the Sana’a International Airport to local use instead of reopening it as an international airport.
For their part, the Houthis have offered to have Yemeni planes flying through the Sana’a Airport inspected in Jordan and Egypt, as they consider Saudi coalition-controlled city of Aden unsafe for opponents of the coalition. The Houthis say that reopening Sana’a International Airport is an important humanitarian objective, necessary to transport sick and wounded residents as well as food supplies.
Many civilians have been unable to return to Yemen through the coalition-controlled southern districts after leaving the country to seek medical treatment abroad. Some patients have been prevented from returning home and others have reportedly been arrested, tortured or even killed under the pretext that they supported the Houthis or oppose the presence of the coalition in Yemen.
With agreement not reached during the peace talks in Sweden, the issue of the reopening of Sana’a International Airport was postponed until January 2019 when another round of talks is planned. This caused great frustration for many Yemenis, who hoped the talks would result in the lifting of the coalition’s blockade on the Sana’a Airport.
“The country with the biggest problem in 2019 is going to be Yemen,” said Mark Lowcock, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in a press conference in the Swiss city of Geneva on Tuesday.
Peace talks in Sweden also failed to produce agreement on the paying of government staff salaries and the neutralization of the Central Bank. The Saudi coalition took over the central bank in the early days of the war and has blocked the paying of salaries for Yemen’s civil servants, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, already the worst in the world.
Mohammed Jahaf — a 28-year-old civil servant employed by the Yemen Economic Corporation in Sana’a who, like two million other Yemenis, faces destitution, as his salary has gone unpaid for more than two years — saw the peace talks in Sweden as a waste of time.
Analysts and ordinary Yemenis differ of value and success of talks
Despite their unpopularity among residents in Yemen, the Rimbo talks are regarded by most Yemeni analysts as having progressed better than anticipated. These observers see Rimbo as an encouraging breakthrough after four years of deadly impasse and hope the talks will pave the way to progress on Yemen’s major humanitarian issues.
Numerous prior negotiations between Yemen’s Ansar Allah and the Saudi coalition have failed, including peace talks in Switzerland earlier this year that failed spectacularly after the Saudi-led coalition refused to allow the evacuation of wounded Houthi personnel for treatment abroad. Previous talks also broke down in 2016, when 108 days of negotiations in Kuwait failed to yield a deal.
The Houthis see the Rimbo agreement as a victory for the Yemeni nation, as the Saudi-led coalition was obliged to sit for talks with Ansar Allah, the political wing of the Houthis. Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam says the truce is a defeat for Saudi Arabia as it forces them to stop their aggression, allows existing local protectors who thwarted the Saudi offensive to be in charge of Hodeida, and allows the Yemeni nation to regain access to food, medicine, and other basic supplies.
The agreement essentially places the strategic port city of Hodeida under the military control of the UN; and, while Houthi military forces will withdraw from Hodeida city and the port, they will retain political control of the city. The Saudi-led coalition and its local mercenaries, on the other hand, must withdraw from all sites in southern Hodeida that have been occupied during the coalition military campaign that began in June.
The Houthis also see the talks as an end to international isolation, as they have for the first time been given international recognition and a seat at the table with other nations. They have also shown that they have been steadfast in the face of the military invasion from one of the most well-funded and well-equipped military alliances on earth and are still willing to extend their hands towards peace with the enemy.
Peace in Yemen may be elusive
Some Yemenis have accused the Houthis of making concessions to Saudi Arabia and abandoning Hodeida, while others believe they made sacrifices necessary to alleviate the suffering of the people. Ahmed Saif Hashed, a member of Yemen’s parliament, went so far as to accuse the Houthis of abandoning Yemen’s popular revolution in return for participation in a national government
Other Yemenis see the outcome of peace talks in Sweden as simply being confidence-building measures, the first steps to ending the dire humanitarian situation. They see the talks as actually having netted very little, as profound differences still remain. The unresolved issues of humanitarian corridors, a prisoner swap, and the reopening of the defunct Sana’a International Airport still remain and, functionally, the only breakthrough achieved in the talks was over the fate of Hodeida.
Even the agreement over the control of Hodeida has been subject to much disagreement. While both sides have agreed to a UN role in the port, they differ on who should run the city. The Houthis want Hodeida declared a militarily neutral zone, saying they retain political charge of the city, but Saudi-backed forces argue political control of the city is a matter of “sovereignty” and that they should be handed political control.
Deep-rooted political divisions also remain around the presidency, a united government, early elections, the outcome of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), a weapons handover, the building of a single national army, and future relations with the countries currently fighting in Yemen. These multiple divisions combine to make peace elusive in the near term according to many observers.
Others say the willingness of both sides to show flexibility in Sweden reflected their zeal for ending, or at least alleviating, the suffering of Yemeni people — saying that the cooperation will open a window to further constructive talks in January and better understanding between the warring parties to end the war. Mohammed Fayed, however, believes that peace in Yemen will be achieved only if international pressure on the Saudi alliance continues.
The starvation, death, and epidemics that are rampant in Yemen cannot be resolved without addressing the Saudi role in causing them. At a time when Yemen’s former government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi views Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as friends and allies, most Yemenis see them as an occupying enemy.
For the time being, these considerations have been put on the back burner as the fragile ceasefire in Hodeida has already been shattered. Since peace talks ended last week, the Saudi-led coalition has already conducted 50 airstrikes and Saudi artillery has fired more than 300 mortar shells into Hodeida’s residential areas, killing five more civilians.
Top Photo | A man reads al-Thawra newspaper at Souq al-Melh marketplace in the old city of Sana’a, Yemen, Dec. 11, 2018. Yemen’s warring sides agreed Thursday to an immediate cease-fire in the strategic port city of Hodeida, where fighting has disrupted vital aid deliveries and left the country on the brink of starvation in the 4-year-old civil war. Hani Mohammed | AP
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.