Yemen Peace Talks Stalled as Sides Compete for Taiz

taiz bomb

The process of negotiating a peace settlement in Yemen has reportedly begun, with reports of a Houthi delegation traveling to neighboring Oman to conduct peace talks with the government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who returned to Aden earlier this month. Mohammed Abdul Salam, a Houthi spokesman, announced via Facebook that, “We hope [the dialogue] will be serious and constructive, leading to a halt in aggression, lifting of the siege, and revival of the political process.” Muscat, Oman will serve as the venue of the United Nations-sponsored peace talks which will hope to see a ceasefire brokered between the two parties followed by a full withdrawal of rebels from the urban areas of the country and return of government property. Last month the Houthis agreed to the “Muscat Principles,” but in recent weeks the transition to the talks in Muscat has been delayed by renewed fighting around the city of Taiz.  The actions of the Houthis there, including heavy use of landmines, caused the Yemeni Foreign Minister Riad Yassin to issue a statement saying that this “shows that really they are not serious [about the peace process].”

Taiz is Yemen’s third largest city behind Sanaa and Aden and it serves as a crucial urban area in the country’s southwest corner.  The city has changed hands between the Houthis and government forces several times this year; both factions seek to use the city to control access to the vital port city of Mocha and the capital of Sana’a. However, as Theodore Karasik points out, Taiz represents the need for “the Aden government to control key urban and rural areas in Western Yemen. Yemen’s future economic hopes lie in this region” but for the “Houthis, the fall of Taiz will be the loss of a bargaining chip in any current or future talks regarding the future of the country.”

Late last month, the U.N. World Food Program director for the region, Muhannad Hadistated, “We plead for safe and immediate access to the city of Taiz to prevent a humanitarian tragedy as supplies dwindle, threatening the lives of thousands…These people have already suffered extreme hunger, and if this situation continues, the damage from hunger will be irreversible.”  The city’s importance has led both sides to resort to illegal tactics such as mining roads, which was detailed extensively in a new Human Rights Watch report. While both the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition are at fault in this conflict, it is clear as Mahmoud Al Azanicomments that “tangible results will be reached only after Yemeni and coalition forces liberate Taiz.”