The extension, Tuesday, by the UN, for “two more months”, of the truce in force in Yemen prolongs the hopes for peace of a country ravaged by 8 years of war, and mired in the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. But if, exhausted, the belligerents were forced to silence the weapons, the tensions at the origin of the conflict remain unresolved. Decryption.
“I am pleased to announce that the parties have agreed to extend the truce, under the same conditions, for two additional months, from August 2, 2022 to October 2, 2022”, declared, Tuesday August 2, the emissary of UN for Yemen, Hans Grundberg.
For Yemen, with these words, it is, in fine, the hope that the Swedish diplomat prolongs. The poorest state on the Arabian Peninsula, the country that the Greeks and Romans called “Happy Arabia” is facing the most serious humanitarian crisis of our time.
This disaster is fueled by a devastating conflict: one that opposes – broadly – the forces of the Yemeni government, supported by a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia since 2015, to the Houthi rebels, from a population of Shiites, backed by Iran, Riyadh’s rival in the region.
The loyalist camp has been represented by a “presidential council” since the president, Abd Rabbo Mansour, discredited by exile, delegated his power to it last April.
According to the UN, the war in Yemen has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced, with two-thirds of the population in need of humanitarian aid, particularly in the face of the risk of large-scale famine.
The ongoing ceasefire “includes a commitment by the parties to intensify negotiations to reach a broad truce agreement as soon as possible,” Hans Grundberg said in a statement.
According to him, negotiations are underway via the UN “in order to consolidate the opportunity offered by the truce to move towards a lasting peace”. On April 2, a two-month truce was secured in Yemen, then extended for a similar period on June 2, giving Yemenis a rare respite. As in June, the announcement of the renewal of the truce was made in extremis, the very day it was supposed to end.
“The main objective of the current truce remains to provide tangible relief to civilians and to create an environment conducive to a peaceful resolution of the conflict through a comprehensive political process,” said the UN envoy for Yemen.
This objective has been partly achieved, according to a number of humanitarian organizations on the ground: the ceasefire has made it possible in four months to reduce the number of civilian victims “considerably” and to facilitate the delivery of fuel, which has leads to a “proper functioning of public services”. The truce was relatively respected on the ground, despite sporadic violations, again according to these NGOs, which include Action Against Hunger, Handicap International, Doctors of the World, Oxfam and Save the Children.
Since 2015, renewed violence has repeatedly shattered previous hopes for peace. As in 2021, when Washington announced the end of American support for the Saudi-led coalition, in a gesture of “goodwill” towards Tehran and its Houthi proteges. The latter, however, had hardly seized this outstretched hand, on the contrary reinforcing their offensive on Marib, in the north of the country.
Why, then, does this national truce – the first in 7 years – seem to be permanent? How to explain the (very) cautious optimism of a Joe Biden who, on Tuesday August 2, hailed an “unprecedented calm” in Yemen? After 8 years of war, “the belligerents are more or less exhausted”, explains David Rigoulet-Roze , associate researcher at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris), author of numerous publications on the Arabian Peninsula.
“Especially since the scenario of a ‘military tipping point’ never materialized in the end,” adds the editor-in-chief of the journal Orients Stratégiques: The Battle of Marib, in the north of country, in 2021, could have embodied this turning point – in favor of one side or the other – but it was not: on the contrary, we are witnessing rather “a military stagnation”.
Yemen is not “still very far” from a lasting pacification, specifies the researcher. According to him “each actor, however, has found, for the moment, an interest in the sustainability of the truce”, good news for civilian populations.
However, this extension was only accepted with difficulty. Until the hours preceding its formalization on Tuesday, the belligerents had repeatedly accused each other of violations vis-à-vis their reciprocal obligations. These include the thorny issue of the payment of civil servants’ salaries, the opening of blocked roads, as in the city besieged by the rebels of Taiz, a more regular transport of fuel to the ports of Hodeïda (west), as well as an expansion of flights to and from Sanaa airport (north), formerly closed to civilian traffic.
If on May 16, the first commercial plane in six years had been able to take off from the Yemeni capital, these authorizations remain “conditioned and limited to certain types of flight”, notes David Rigoulet-Roze. A dangerous source of frustration for the Houthis, who have long hung over diplomatic efforts “a sword of Damocles”, threatening not to extend the truce if air traffic is not restored in accordance with their demands, notes David Rigoulet- Pink. But this point is for the pro-government coalition a “most sensitive question”, continues the researcher.
Yemeni rebels, backed by Iran, secured gradual control of Sanaa from 2014, killing the late President Ali Abdallah Saleh with a rocket attack in 2017. Also, for the pro-Saudi camp, explains David Rigoulet-Roze, restoring normal air traffic over Sanaa would potentially amount to opening the skies of the capital to Tehran, accused of supplying the rebel ranks with arms.
Multiple degrees of conflict
If the Yemeni question remains so complex, explains, in essence, David Rigoulet-Roze, it is because of the interweaving of multiple degrees of “intra-Yemeni” conflict (tribal, clan, north-south, etc.) in which are interfered with by regional powers. Such as Riyadh. “Long before the truce, the latter had long sought to extricate itself from a war that Crown Prince Bin Salman himself unwisely unleashed in 2015”. Unsurprisingly: this conflict is for Saudi Arabia all at the same time a “financial abyss, a strategic impasse and a humanitarian tragedy”, analyzes David Rigoulet-Roze. A very bad showcase for a kingdom that intends to seduce foreign investors, driven by its “vision” of a horizon free from oil revenues.
No actor in the conflict can nevertheless envisage its end without “at least saving face, or obtaining a certain number of gains”, adds David Rigoulet-Roze. For example, considering themselves aggrieved by the reunification of the country in 1990, the separatists of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) will never accept a peace involving the return to “full guardianship of Sanaa”, observes the Arabian Peninsula specialist.
But is the war in Ukraine already changing the situation? At the end of June, the UN’s World Food Program announced further cuts in its aid, due to a chronic shortfall in funding, inflation, and the repercussions of the conflict in Ukraine. The specter of the worsening of an already disastrous situation is a source of immense concern in Yemen, notes David Rigoulet-Roze, for both parties to the conflict. “Rebels and loyalists are now indeed looking for a way out of this crisis,” said the researcher. But no one – not even the UN – has yet found the door.
Source: France 24