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Is the Yemen peace deal for real?

Three Yemenis sit outside destroyed homes, shortly after an airstrike by the Saudi Arabian-led coalition. The attack came a day after a humanitarian truce failed to take hold.
Three Yemenis inspect the damage to their homes in the capital Sanaa (Almigdad Mojalli/IRIN)

Yemen’s Houthi rebels formally committed this week to a UN-brokered peace plan, but their rival for power, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, dismissed it simply as a “manoeuvre.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman Stéphane Dujarric described the written pledge to the seven-point scheme, which would see the Houthis withdraw from captured territories and give up arms, as “an important step.”

IRIN canvassed expert opinion about the significance of the move:

Adam Baron, visiting fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations

“I think it remains to be seen how this will unfold. The Houthis and their allies among [backers of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh] have agreed to this – in principle – previously, but they’ve been short on actions to suggest that they mean it.”

“There's no question that some sort of return to the political process is in everyone's interest, particularly as the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate across the country. Still, with distrust among Yemen's various factions at an all time high – in addition to the mammoth amount of arms floating around the country – the task of bringing key factions from the battlefield to the negotiating table is far easier said than done.”

Hisham al-Omeisy, independent Sana’a-based political analyst

“The point everybody is arguing about is whether the Houthis will really commit and fulfill [UN Security Council Resolution 2216, the basis of the plan]. The Houthis have said they will, but the government is pushing for more guarantees.”

Hadi’s recent statements suggest he has “toned down his rhetoric a little bit… the government was caught in a corner, repeatedly insisting on not having talks until the resolution was fulfilled. Now they are caught in an awkward situation … the government is basically prancing around this. They don't want to be seen as being pushed or manhandled.”

“This political jousting and exchanges of words have been going on for some time now, but it doesn't really matter [what happens] here in Sana’a. What matters is what the Saudis say.”

Osamah Alfakih, human rights researcher and activist

“Reaching a political solution in Yemen is important, and even though the Houthis announced their acceptance to have peace talks and adhere to UNSC resolutions, many actions [need to] take place on the ground [for peace to come about]. Since the Houthis became the de facto authority in Yemen, they have committed human rights violations and abuses.”

“Part of engaging in peace talks is respecting human rights,” said Alfakih, listing the imprisonment of political detainees and journalists and restrictions on the media as among the Houthis’ alleged infringements. “[If the Houthis don’t respect human rights, this week’s commitment] is a military tactic, nothing more and nothing less.”

What’s at stake?

More than 5,000 people, including more than 2,300 civilians, have been killed since a Saudi Arabia-led coalition began airstrikes in March in a bid to oust the Houthis from power.

The Houthis, who are allied with Saleh – an ousted former president who governed Yemen for 33 years until he ceded power to Hadi in 2012 – still control the capital Sana’a and other parts of the country.

On Wednesday, Amnesty International said it had uncovered evidence of war crimes by the Saudi-led coalition, and called for the United States and Britain to stop exporting bombs and fighter jets to Saudi Arabia and its partners.

Hadi, who remains the internationally recognised president, returned to Yemen for the first time in six months (he has been living in exile in Saudi Arabia) on 22 September, visiting his southern stronghold of Aden.

Hadi’s forces, backed by thousands of Gulf Arab troops and coalition air support, have made significant advances in recent weeks, driving the Houthis, who he accuses of being Iranian proxies, to the negotiating table.

There was a humanitarian crisis in Yemen long before these past years of intense conflct. The situation, for many, is desperate. Hundreds of millions of dollars of pledged aid to help the country recover will mean little until there is peace on the ground.

See: Bomb it, fix it: Saudi aid to Yemen

Dujarric said the UN envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, would “be going to the region and trying to gel what is being said into something a little more concrete.”

Watch this space.

--as/ag

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