Yemen Talks Extended After Near Collapse

yemen peace talks

Tensions between the two delegations in the long-running and unfruitful UN-sponsored Yemeni peace talks have escalated rapidly, resulting in a series of ultimatums and a near collapse of the negotiations. The latest political crisis began two weeks ago, when each delegation issued ultimatums and threatened to boycott the talks if certain demands and conditions were not met. As the talks stalled, the government of Kuwait, which has hosted the peace talks since April, issued an ultimatum of its own to the warring factions, saying the country would no longer be willing to host the talks if a solution to the conflict was not reached within 15 days.

The escalating tensions between the warring factions nearly resulted in a full collapse of the talks over the weekend after the Houthi rebels established their own government and the Yemeni government left the talks in protest.  On Thursday, the Houthis and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s political party declared that they would create a 10-person council with a rotating president to rule Yemen, naming the “arrogance of the Saudi aggression” as a key facet of why they decided to ditch the talks. UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said the move by the rebels “represents a grave violation” of UN Security Council resolutions on the Yemeni conflict and “endangers the substantial progress made during the Kuwait talks.”

In response to the Houthi declaration, a Yemeni government spokesperson announced that their delegation would leave on Saturday, stating that there could be “no more talks after the new coup” of the Houthi rebels. President Hadi’s deputy prime minister, Abdulaziz al-Jubari, asserted, “The Houthi and Saleh declaration today is a message to the world that they are not ready for peace and are not ready to spare Yemen more destruction.”

However, after meeting with the UN Special Envoy to discuss peace proposals on Sunday, the Yemeni government reversed their decision to exit the talks and agreed to a proposal requiring the Houthis pull out of cities and hand over their weapons. The proposal also provides for the annulment of political bodies resulting from the Houthi declaration of last week. The Yemeni government also mandated as a part of their agreement that the Houthis sign the deal by August 7. The Houthis, however, have reportedly rejected the proposal, reiterating their demand for a unity government and slamming the announcement of a draft settlement as “no more than media stunts” aimed at foiling the talks.

The Yemeni government delegation, hearing of the Houthis rejection of the UN plan, left Kuwait on Monday. Foreign Minister Abdulmalek al-Mikhlafi stated, “We now leave Kuwait…but are not quitting the consultations and not ending them before August 7. We will return any minute … if the other side agrees to sign” the UN proposal.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in Yemen continues to deteriorate. The UN has documented more than 1,500 incidents of grave violations against children, with a seven-fold increase of child deaths and maimings since 2014. Amnesty International also reported that both Houthi and pro-government forces have implemented unlawful restrictions on aid that are “exacerbating the country’s humanitarian crisis and endangering lives.” The restrictions, including overly burdensome reporting requirements, threats, intimidation, and obstruction of activities, have prevented desperately needed food, water, and medical supplies from reaching. Amid this ongoing aid crisis, the Yemeni central bank is facing an increasingly dire liquidity issue, and reserve funds are so low as to threaten collapse of the economy. The economic instability faced by Yemen has led to skyrocketing prices for food and oil, while simultaneously preventing the purchase of foreign exchange support packages.

In other news, the Executive Director of the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, Maged al-Madhaji, was arrested on July 24 by security forces loyal to the Houthi rebel movement. Al-Madhaji was taken to prison, interrogated, and then released later that same day. The Sana’a Center in a statement called the detention “unjustified” and asserted that it is “the latest in a series of moves by armed groups in Yemen aimed at silencing independent and principled voices in the country.”