By Fernando Carvajal
Five months after the highly praised handshake between the different sides of the conflict at the Yemen summit in Stockholm, UN envoy Martin Griffiths remains optimistic about the ongoing stalemate.
Briefing the Security Council in April, he praised both sides for accepting phase one of the agreed-upon plan for the redeployment of Houthi and government forces from the key port city of Hodeidah.
But on the ground, his efforts have been thwarted by Houthi obstruction and President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s shifting priorities.
Swedish diplomats have made significant efforts to rally support from Yemen’s government and the Saudi-led coalition, but these efforts have fallen short of expectations, as the US and UK remain on the sidelines.
A shaky start
It is unclear whether Sweden has engaged Iran as an alternative channel to the Houthis. Yemen’s foreign minister, Khaled al-Yamani, recently asked why Iran had yet to voice any support for the Stockholm plan, while Washington and Riyadh have opposed any official role for Iran in the peace process.
Headlines have shifted from jubilation over the milestone Stockholm gathering in December, to caution over its shaky start, to finally acknowledging the possibility of complete collapse.
The Stockholm deal focused on three key issues: Hodeidah, the Taiz humanitarian corridor, and prisoner exchange.
On the latter issue, mediation through the Red Cross stalled in early February amid differences in the prisoner lists submitted by the warring sides, and also due to allegations that certain names on the government list were linked to al-Qaeda.
On Taiz, there has been no progress, as clashes between pro-government factions have obstructed implementation of the plan. Locals in Taiz have also complained that the Houthis have been harassing and extorting local and international organisations. “They [Houthis] arrest the driver with his [truck] and will [not] let him go unless they pay hundreds of thousands [of Yemeni rials],” one local contact in Taiz told me.
The expected ceasefire in Hodeidah, a demand in the lead-up to talks, never materialised on the ground, with the Houthis complaining of violations by the coalition and pro-government forces. At the same time, in a letter made public in February, the Yemeni government and its coalition partners complained to the UN Security Council of repeated Houthi violations.
Isolating the Houthis
Yemen’s government and its coalition partners want to isolate the Houthis and remove their access to the Red Sea to curb smuggling routes. The Houthis have used Ras Isa, a port north of Hodeidah, to offload fuel for their markets, representing a major source of income and a means of maintaining patronage networks and funding war efforts.
At the same time, the UN and other aid agencies aim to stabilise the flow of ships into the port to improve the delivery of aid and commercial goods.
You can read the full opinion article at Middle East Eye here.