Yemeni government agrees to peace talks with Houthi rebels
ADEN // Yemen’s government agreed on Sunday to attend UN-brokered peace talks with Houthi rebels and their allies.
The two sides last met for negotiations in June, but they ended with no agreement and no end to the fighting.
The UN’s special envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, has in recent days met the Yemeni president Abdrabu Mansour Hadi to try to restart the negotiations.
“The decision has been taken to attend and a letter will be sent to the UN secretary general,” Rajeh Badi, the government spokesman, said on Sunday.
Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces received a boost at the weekend when they were joined by a battalion of 300 Sudanese troops, the first deployment by a non-Arabian Gulf coalition member.
“The Sudanese forces arrived in Aden to support the coalition forces, but they will not participate in the operations inside Aden,” the director of Aden’s security office, Mohammed Mosaed, told The National.
The Sudanese forces will be involved in operations outside Aden province, he said.
Sudan joined the coalition in March and sent a handful of aircraft. At the time, Sudanese officials said Khartoum was prepared to send up to 6,000 ground troops to join Gulf forces in Yemen. However, no troops were dispatched until Saturday, when it was confirmed that about 300 Sudanese soldiers and officers had arrived in Aden.
The deployment of troops from Sudan is a further diplomatic blow to Iran, which not only supports the Houthi rebels but in the past has also had a close military relationship with Khartoum.
As Sudan moved closer to Saudi Arabia over the past year or so, its traditional ties with Iran weakened. Last month, Sudan took the unusual step of expelling an Iranian diplomat and closing the Iranian cultural centre in its capital.
In Africa, such cultural centres “are really proxies for Iranian intelligence and highly political activities”, said Harry Verhoeven, a professor at Georgetown University’s school of foreign service in Doha, and the moves were seen as gestures toward Riyadh.
Sudan also refused an offer from Tehran to help with its air defences, and is unlikely to allow the Iranian navy to use its military ports, as it has done in the past.
“What we are seeing is a pretty important realignment, but it’s certainly not a permanent one,” Mr Verhoeven said. “I don’t think Saudi Arabia is under that illusion, I don’t think Khartoum is under that illusion, and I don’t think Iran is under that illusion.”
The deployment of Sudanese troops to Yemen comes as the coalition continues to make gains in the conflict. In July, resistance militias and coalition ground forces led by the UAE liberated Aden from the Houthis and forces allied with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. They have also pushed the rebels back in Marib province and parts of Taez province, including the strategic Bab Al Mandeb strait.
But despite a seven-month air campaign, the rebels remain entrenched in the capital Sanaa and the province of Hodeidah, while in recent weeks, extremist militias – including those linked to Yemen’s Al Qaeda branch and to ISIL – have sought to exploit the lack of government authority and services in Aden.
Al Qaeda has also tried to assert its control in other parts of the country outside of the control of rebel forces and the Hadi government, including the capitals of Abyan and Hadramawt provinces.
Meanwhile, Houthi sieges have created an acute hunger crisis, while the coalition blockade of Yemen’s ports prevents Iran from arming the rebels.
US officials have called on Gulf Arab allies in the coalition to take steps to increase the delivery of humanitarian aid. “The coalition’s naval vessels are securing Yemeni ports to ensure delivery of humanitarian supplies to the Yemeni people,” the UAE said on Sunday.
Also on Sunday, the Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation sent its 14th aid flight to Yemen. The plane, which arrived on Socotra Island, was carrying 75 tonnes of food supplies and medicine
* Additional reporting by Wam and Reuters
Updated: October 19, 2015 04:00 AM