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Yemen's fragile peace process

Published Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Talks between the warring parties in Yemen have achieved a ceasefire but other commitments agreed in Stockholm are slow to be implemented; without further progress the ceasefire could crumble and Yemen could be tipped toward famine.

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Talks in the Swedish capital Stockholm in December 2018 resulted in agreement between Yemen’s warring parties. The sides agreed to a ceasefire around the port of al-Hodeidah, crucial for preventing famine because of its role in importing and storing food.

This was the first time the sides had agreed on anything for some time. As well as the ceasefire they agreed to redeploy their forces, demilitarising the port city and allowing for agencies to resume their humanitarian work.

The ceasefire has been implemented but is extremely fragile, with both sides accusing the other of violations. The crucial redeployment and prisoner exchange agreements have not been carried out, however, with the parties unable to agree on the force that should take over security in Hodeidah after redeployment. Unless there is progress, analysts fear that the ceasefire will break down.

On the ground conflict has reduced around Hodeidah but has broken out elsewhere. There has been concern about the employment of mercenaries, including minors, in the conflict. Analysts also argue that the conflict is complicated, with many different forces pursuing various ends. The Saudis and the Emiratis diverge particularly on the fate of southern Yemen, which could end up splitting from the north again.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains a potent force in Yemen, where it sometimes forms alliances with local forces close to the Hadi government. Since being driven out of its base in the southern city of Mukalla, its presence is more diffuse, however. ISIS/Daesh has a Yemen “province” but it is not as strong as AQAP, being seen as less close to Yemeni interests. The US continues its drone strikes against terrorist leaders, sometimes killing civilians accidentally; the UK does not participate in counter-terrorism in Yemen.

Meanwhile, the suffering of Yemenis continues. While the danger of famine is not so pressing as in late 2018, experts argue that the ceasefire and access to Hodeidah will do little more than prevent the situation from deteriorating. In February 2019 a pledging conference took place, responding to the UN’s largest ever single appeal for humanitarian funds. Saudi Arabia and the UAE each promised $750 million, while the UK was the third biggest pledger.

The disastrous situation of Yemeni civilians already made the question of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE controversial. With the death of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Embassy in Turkey, pressure greatly increased.

The UK says that arms exports are judged according to strict criteria and, if there is a likelihood they might be used in violation of international humanitarian law, a licence is not approved. UK ministers also say that the UK is helping Saudi Arabia to comply with international law, and that it is better to maintain a strong relationship in order to keep some influence. Opposition politicians have disputed those arguments.

Some other countries have acted to restrict export licensing to Saudi Arabia, although several have continued to honour existing contracts.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8536

Author: Ben Smith

Topics: Middle East, Terrorism

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