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article imageUN to hold Yemen peace talks on May 28

By Ken Hanly     May 21, 2015 in Politics
Geneva - The UN has set May 28 to begin Yemen peace talks in Geneva but only one party to the conflict may attend. The Hadi government based in Saudi Arabia demands that the rebel Houthis give up some of the territory they have taken as a condition of taking part.
Riad Yassine, the foreign minister, at first insisted the Houthis would need to implement all of UN Security Council Resolution 2216 in order for the Hadi government to agree to talks. Resolution 2216 was passed back on April 15th: Adopting resolution 2216 (2015) by 14 affirmative votes to none against, with one abstention (Russian Federation), the Council also demanded that the Houthis, withdraw from all areas seized during the latest conflict, relinquish arms seized from military and security institutions, cease all actions falling exclusively within the authority of the legitimate Government of Yemen and fully implement previous Council resolutions.
In other words, after driving the Hadi government into exile and setting up their own government as well as occupying much of the western part of Yemen, the Houthis are to give up the territory they have occupied and cede power to the government in exile operating from the Saudi capital, Ryadh.
Sometimes, it seems as if the UN operates in a different reality as it ignores what is happening on the ground. Instead it publishes moralistic rhetoric and issues demands or resolutions that are not kept. However, in this case the UN is simply pimping for the big powers that count in the area — the Gulf Cooperation Council including Saudi Arabia plus the U.S. Hadi is their man and even though he has been driven out of Yemen, even from his refuge in the south in Aden, he is still regarded as the rightful president. He has little real power on the ground in Yemen but that matters little if the legitimate use of force in Yemen is the coalition bombing Yemen to bits and any groups fighting the Houthis, who are claimed to be loyal to the Hadi government. Some in the south fighting the Houthis are probably loyal to the southern separatist movement and many fighting the Houthis in the east are loyal to Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula and at war with the Hadi government.
Powerful governments often believe that their power ensures that they can create the situation they want. In this case Gulf Arab countries including Saudi Arabia believe that the return of the Hadi government can be attained using their superior military power. As a result, they think it reasonable that negotiation means the surrender of their opponents instead of the each side recognizing the interests of the other side.
However, even Yassine appears to realize his original precondition did not have the slightest chance of being accepted. He later suggested that at least the Houthis should give back to the Hadi government a major city such as Aden or Taez. In the past, the Saudis have ruled out peace talks without a full disarmament and surrender. Yassine said a withdrawal from some captured territory by the Houthis would be a sign of goodwill. The April UN resolution placed an arms embargo on the rebels and also imposed sanctions on the son of Saleh the former president. It reiterated sanctions imposed last November on the ex-president and also two Houthi leaders. Given these moves it is not clear who would be able to negotiate on behalf of the Houthis or Saleh, who with his son controls much of the Yemeni armed forces. Saleh is allied with the Houthis.
Yemen's ambassador to the UN Khaled Alyemany said the talks in Geneva would be designed "to convince the Houthis to give up what they are doing and be part of the solution." These do not sound like "peace talks" but surrender talks. Given the situation on the ground there does not seem to be any motivation for the Houthis to surrender. Certainly many Yemenis hate the Houthis and want the conflict to stop but continued bombing by the Saudis directly supported by Hadi and other politicians from their safe haven in the Saudi capital will hardly generate support for the return of the previous government. For talks to have any chance of success they must begin with neither side placing preconditions on participation. Both sides have set preconditions for participation.
The Houthis have suggested as a condition for their attending that the two sides agree to the Peace and Partnership agreement the Hadi government signed when the Houthis took over the capital last September. The Houthis said: "The only way to solve the political problem is dialogue in a neutral country over what has been agreed upon in advance in the peace and partnership agreement," Maybe no one will show up for the peace talks.
The agreement did not result in a government the Houthis would approve and Hadi resigned. He was virtually under house arrest but escaped to Aden, claimed he was still president, and tried to set up a rival administration to the Houthis who took power when the negotiations failed. Hadi was driven out of Aden and took refuge in Ryadh where he enlisted Arab countries to try to put him back in power.
More about Yemen peace talks, Houthis, Mansour Hadi
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