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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

A dark day for Yemenis after failed peace talks

Appeasement is clearly not working after Houthis stalled and failed to show in Geneva

UN special envoy Martin Griffiths admitted he spent days "scurrying" around his hotel in a bid to persuade Houthis to join peace talks in Geneva. Salvatore di Nolfi / EPA
UN special envoy Martin Griffiths admitted he spent days "scurrying" around his hotel in a bid to persuade Houthis to join peace talks in Geneva. Salvatore di Nolfi / EPA

A very delicate, fragile moment. Not quite what we wanted. These were the statements emerging from UN-led peace talks to resolve the Yemeni war, which failed at the first hurdle when a Houthi delegation failed to show.

They gloss over the stark reality: that all those affected by the three-year war in Yemen were present and willing to negotiate, except the actual instigators of the conflict.

UN special envoy Martin Griffiths was anxious to put a positive spin on more than two days’ delay while attempts were made to bring the rebels to the table. He insisted it was not necessary for them to be in the same room or even the same city.

But the bleak truth was clear to all parties who made the effort to attend in good faith that a political solution could be reached: that the Houthis have no interest in any solution that involves them rescinding their stranglehold on Yemen, whatever the cost to its people.

Up until the last minute, they were throwing obstacles in the path of the talks, issuing demands and conditions for their attendance just three days beforehand, restarting fighting in Hodeidah and launching missiles at Saudi Arabia on Thursday while a delegation from Yemen’s rightful government sat waiting patiently for them to attend in the Starling Hotel in Geneva.

This is not the first time the Houthis have reneged on promises, which prove hollow when they do not work wholly in their own favour. It marks a pattern of behaviour of “irresponsibility”, as Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled Al Yamani said.

Houthi claims that they were not allowed to fly out of the country are simply not true when every allowance was made for their presence at the talks, including a month-long ceasefire in the summer.

Appeasement is clearly not working. It is simply giving those with malicious intent a chance to stall, plot and instigate more violence.

The “fruitful” discussions Mr Griffiths referred to can only achieve so much when the perpetrators of chaos are missing from the room.

Mr Griffiths admitted he spent several days “scurrying around in the hotel”, neither an indication of a man in control of negotiations nor a convincing sign that he has gone far enough in holding the Houthis accountable.

As Mr Al Yamani said, it is time to stop making excuses for the rebels. And as the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, pointed out, it shows the Houthis are “not committed”.

Mr Griffiths left Geneva with the promise to persuade Houthi militia to participate in the process. For all his optimism, there are few signs he can – and that will ultimately be a dark day for Yemenis, whose suffering cannot be allowed to continue while their invaders procrastinate.