Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 25 April 2019

In Yemen, peace will be a process, not a moment

Building meaningful dialogue and trust is the only way to a political solution

Tribesmen loyal to Houthi rebels attend a gathering to show their support for the Sweden peace talks. AP
Tribesmen loyal to Houthi rebels attend a gathering to show their support for the Sweden peace talks. AP

As UN special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths has said, 2018 has been a terrifying year for Yemenis. In addition to the conflict, the spectre of widespread famine has loomed large – the UN is currently feeding eight million people in the country. But the closing weeks of the year saw progress towards peace, achieved during eight days of talks in Sweden earlier this month that brought the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels together for the first time in two and a half years.

The war in Yemen is far from over. Early indications suggest that, having agreed to withdraw from the vital port city of Hodeidah, the Iran-backed Houthis have failed to do so. They have also reportedly failed to open a humanitarian corridor to allow critical aid to flow from Hodeidah to the capital, Sanaa. In response, the United Nations expressed “disappointment at the missed opportunity”. Yemeni government officials, too, expressed exasperation. Mutual mistrust and suspicion, as well as the threat of Iranian meddling, remain. And suddenly the great progress made ahead of fresh talks in February is in jeopardy. But attempts to end a conflict that has left thousands dead or wounded simply must continue in earnest.

Further potential flashpoints litter the road ahead, among them disputes over the prisoner exchange agreed in Sweden and government’s suspicions that the Houthis may have infiltrated the ranks of the local coastguard, which, under the supervision of the UN, has been put in charge of the port under the terms of the agreement. But peace is a process, not a moment. As Mr Griffiths freely admits, this will be “a hard slog”. Still, there remains a sense that change is in the air. The Saudi-led coalition fighting to reinstate Yemen’s internationally recognised government has repeatedly committed to a political solution. The Houthis must now do the same.

Only Yemenis were gathered around the table in Stockholm earlier this month. If the ceasefire holds, despite yesterday’s worrying revelations, it will be only Yemenis who convene again under the auspices of the UN at the end of January, this time to begin piecing together a political solution to the war. If they do, their countrymen can dare to dream that 2019 may be the year in which peace returns to their country.

Updated: December 30, 2018 07:30 PM

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