Can U.N. talks bring peace to Yemen?
June 8 — Even though peace talks are slated to begin on June 14 in Geneva between the major parties involved in the conflict over control of Yemen, the fighting rages on inside this underdeveloped Middle Eastern state.
Prior to the announcement of the U.N.-sponsored talks, discussions were taking place between the Obama administration’s State Department and the Ansarullah movement (Houthis) in Oman. An alliance led by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council, and backed by the U.S., has been conducting aerial bombardments and supporting militias to attack the Ansarullah and the forces in the military still loyal to former President Abdullah Ali Saleh.
Even before negotiations began, Saudi-backed political forces of fugitive Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi set parameters for the talks based upon restoring Hadi’s government to power in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital city.
Hadi had fled to the south of Yemen and later to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he claims to be the country’s legitimate head of state. The U.S. appears to recognize Hadi as the de facto regime in Yemen despite Ansarullah taking large amounts of territory. The White House withdrew 100 special forces from Yemen earlier this year and recalled its diplomatic personnel. Hundreds of Yemeni Americans have been stranded in the embattled state where Washington has ignored the plight of those who hold U.S. passports.
A June 8 Associated Press report noted: “Yemen’s internationally recognized prime minister said Monday [June 8] that upcoming United Nations-sponsored peace talks in Geneva are aimed at ‘restoring power’ to his government and pressuring Shiite rebels to withdraw from the capital and other cities. Speaking to reporters from the Saudi capital, Riyadh, Khaled Bahah said he hopes the June 14 meeting will lead to more intensive negotiations on a road map for Yemen’s future, including an eventual referendum on a draft constitution and fresh elections.”
A spokesperson for the Ansarullah forces immediately dismissed the assertion by the Hadi faction. Their position is that the discussions should focus on the implementation of a U.N. resolution passed earlier this year calling for the withdrawal of armed forces from various regions of the capital and throughout the country.
In a statement reported in AP, Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdel-Salam stressed that the Hadi regime is illegitimate and therefore in no position to force preconditions for U.N.-supervised talks. Abdel-Salam characterized Hadi as a “tool of Riyadh” and asserted that his Saudi-backed regime “can’t talk the language of logic, instead they can talk the language of aggression.”
Ansarullah movement forces question whether the Hadi regime even wants the Geneva talks to take place, saying that U.S.-allied interests would not be able to unify its own fractious elements irrespective of a national mandate for peace.
Ground attacks intensify along Saudi border
In response to the Saudi-led coalition’s massive bombing campaign in Yemen, the Ansarullah and Saleh-loyal forces are taking the war into eastern Saudi Arabia. Cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia have resulted in dozens of casualties.
A missile launched from Yemen on June 8 was reported to have fatally struck two Saudi soldiers. These deaths were acknowledged by the Riyadh-led coalition. (Al-Arabiya, June 8) Just a few days before, at least four Saudi troops were killed in a similar attack.
According to a June 8 media release carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, a National Guard soldier and a member of the Border Guard were killed in these attacks, which occurred in the Asir region. An additional two Border Guards were killed in a missile strike in the same area in late May.
It is estimated that 37 people in Saudi Arabia, many of whom were members of the armed forces, have been killed in border clashes and cross-territorial shelling since March 26, when the Saudi-led coalition began bombing Yemen.
An additional four soldiers were slain along with dozens of Yemenis on June 5, when units loyal to former President Saleh launched an offensive operation in the Saudi border districts of Jazan and Najran. Scud missiles were fired into Saudi territory but were repelled, say official sources in Riyadh.
On a regional level the war is being portrayed as a conflict between Saudi Arabia and the GCC-backed coalition supported by the U.S. on one side and the Islamic Republic of Iran and its allies on the other. Any proposed settlement will have to consider these factors.
In addition, inside Yemen itself, a secessionist movement in the south has re-emerged, evoking the former People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in existence from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. The demands for greater autonomy and possible independence must also be taken into account in projecting the future of the country.
Al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State are also active in Yemen. The U.S. has for years launched drone attacks resulting in many deaths, including people who held U.S. passports, claiming to target the AQAP.
Fighting continues in the south
Intense battles are still raging in the southern port city of Aden, where the Ansarullah are regaining territory they lost in recent clashes with militias backed by Saudi Arabia and the GCC and given air cover by Pentagon-coordinated aircraft.
Reuters reported on June 3, “Saudi-led air strikes killed a group of around 20 Houthi fighters outside the southern Yemeni port city of Aden on Wednesday [June 3] and also shook the capital Sanaa in the north, militiamen opposed to the Houthis said. The militia sources said the Houthis were killed when the air raid hit their military convoy as it was transporting an artillery piece toward the northwest suburbs of Aden. The death toll could not be independently verified.”
People living in Aden consistently report deteriorating conditions, as the U.S.-backed forces have implemented a blockade preventing food and fuel from reaching many areas of the city. In the district of Crater, where fierce battles have taken place for weeks, residents said that four people died of dengue fever on June 2. Regular service of electricity, water and trash removal have been severely hampered since the intensified fighting began on March 26.
Washington’s foreign policy is creating more deaths and destruction in Yemen and throughout the region. In Iraq, Syria and Libya, the impact of Pentagon regime-change wars is continuing to prompt dislocation and human misery on a mass scale.
Yet efforts to reshape the Middle East and North Africa are being resisted in Yemen and in other states. The bombing of Yemen for more than two months has still not resulted in the defeat of the Ansarullah and its allies.
Until the people of the region unite against imperialist intervention, the humanitarian crisis cannot be abated. The resources and waterways of the region belong to the people, not the multinational corporations and the international financial institutions.