Last year ended with a tone of optimism among Yemenis after the government and Houthis signed the Stockholm agreement on 13 December. Hopes for peace didn’t last long though, and soon enough the situation in Yemen regressed.
Houthi militias are taking steps that threaten to break the Sweden accord, driving the Foreign Ministry of the internationally recognised Yemeni government to warn against the collapse of the agreement.
What is really going on in Yemen? Who is to blame for breaking the accord? What was the Houthis’ role in the scheme that targeted retired Dutch general Patrick Cammaert, chairman of the UN monitoring mission in charge of overseeing the ceasefire in Hodeida, and led him to submit his resignation? Will UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths restore the hopes of Yemenis in the UN?
After the Yemeni government delegation and the Houthis sat down for peace talks in Sweden, the unexpected happened. The Houthi militias prevented Cammaert from meeting government representatives in Hodeida.
Askar Zuail, member of the negotiation team in Stockholm, tweeted: “The Houthis are still preventing Cammaert from leaving his hotel for the meeting that was set to be held at the Ekhwan Thabit compound at 11am.”
He added: “We, the government team, call on the UN and the UN envoy to Yemen to provide full clarification on all impediments to the Hodeida agreement since it came into effect on 18 December till this moment.”
The Stockholm agreement called for a ceasefire in Hodeida, redeploying forces and giving the UN a role in monitoring the ceasefire and Hodeida ports.
The UN Security Council then issued Resolution 2451 authorising UN Secretary-General António Guterres to deploy international ceasefire monitors.
Official newspapers and news websites then published reports about rifts between Cammaert and Griffiths, saying that the latter opposed Cammaert’s redeployment plans in Hodeida, leading the retired Dutch general to submit his resignation to Guterres.
Since arriving in Yemen on 23 December, Cammaert has had difficulties communicating with the Houthis. On 17 January, his convoy came under fire.
The UN confirmed that Cammaert and his team were unharmed. “Patrick Cammaert and team are safe in Hodeida following a reported shooting incident,” the UN spokesman said. “We know that General Cammaert and his team left a meeting and as they were leaving one UN armoured vehicle sustained one round of small arms fire. We do not have information on the source of that fire.”
The UK-sponsored resolution on the ceasefire monitoring mission was unanimously approved by the 15-member states of the UN Security Council, and the UN called for facilitating the entrance of international monitors into Hodeida and making easier administrative procedures regarding its mission.
Stéphane Dujarric, the UN spokesman, said at a press conference that deploying international monitors in Hodeida required obtaining permission papers from the two warring parties.
According to the UN resolution, an advance team comprising 75 international monitors would oversee implementation of the ceasefire in Hodeida for six months.
An International Crisis Group report said the Houthis was the prime obstacle to enforcing the Stockholm agreement and that the militia had to take the first step by redeploying their forces in the three main Hodeida ports. In a more recent report, the group wrote: “The Houthis maintain that they have moved their main fighting forces out of Hodeida, Ras Issa and Salif ports. This claim, however, is based on their interpretation of the Stockholm agreement.”
The report continued: “On 29 December, after an abortive UN attempt to get the parties to temporarily reopen the Sanaa-Hodeida road as part of a confidence-building measure, the Houthis unilaterally announced their redeployment from [Holdeida’s] ports, reportedly refusing to allow a UN convoy to leave the city via the Sanaa road.It was a disingenuous announcement. As many observers noted, the group appeared to simply hand out uniforms to their supporters at the port and claim that they were autonomous local security forces, asking the UN to verify a ‘redeployment’ of forces. Cammaert refused to oblige.”
At a time the Stockholm agreement should have entered into force, the Houthis are sending reinforcements to Hodeida. The Houthis’ provocations led the Yemen Foreign Ministry to issue a statement saying, “We warn that the Stockholm agreement is at risk of collapse in Hodeida and that [our] approach of self-restraint won’t last forever if the militia doesn’t stop drafting more reinforcements and fighters to Hodeida, building fortifications, violating the ceasefire, attacking civilians in daily provocative actions, and targeting sites of government forces.”
The ministry statement condemned the militia’s decimation of “several tons of wheat and flour, humanitarian aid for the Yemeni people, by bombarding the main mills and silos in Hodeida”, adding that the Houthis’ provocations should not be ignored by the international community and the UN Security Council, and confirming the government’s obligation to implement the Stockholm peace accord.
“The passage of nearly one month and a half without the Houthis’ implementing of the agreement is sufficient proof for the world to know that this group does not believe in peace or in dialogue,” read the Foreign Ministry statement.
Sky News Arabia reported that Griffiths arrived in Sanaa Monday for his second visit in four days, while Al-Mashhad Al-Araby website said that, “Griffiths will talk with Houthi leaders about the implementation of the Hodeida agreement and redeployment in the city and the three ports. Griffiths will also meet with General Patrick Cammaert in Sanaa before going together to Hodeida.” This is going to be Griffiths’ first visit to Hodeida.
“Griffiths denied having differences with Cammaert that led him to submit his resignation,” reported the website.
In interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Griffiths said: “There is no element of truth to such reports… General Cammaert’s plan was to stay in Yemen for a rather short period of time, to activate the Redeployment Coordination Committee and lay the ground for establishing the Hodeida mission. All the speculation about other reasons for General Cammaert’s departure are not accurate.”
He added: “It is important not to lose sight of the big picture necessary to resolve the conflict in Yemen. A framework that will draw a roadmap towards a political agreement will provide us with a basis for the endgame; that is the political solution for the conflict in Yemen.”
Griffiths said he was working on all issues important to Yemen, including the prisoners’ exchange and convening another round of peace talks, stating that “what is important to me is that both parties continue to demonstrate political will in abiding by the Stockholm agreement, and both parties are constructively and seriously engaged for the full implementation of the agreement. What is important now is to stay the course, and to continue working with the two parties until we see the full implementation of the Stockholm agreement.”
The UN special envoy revealed his schedule earlier this week to Asharq Al-Awsat. “General Patrick Cammaert and I have just had a series of very constructive meetings in Sanaa and in Riyadh. I return to Sanaa again as of Monday, and General Cammaert also will be there. I am planned to visit Hodeida, too, this time. Also, next week I will visit Aden to meet with Prime Minister Main Abdelmalek. Our focus now is to see redeployments take place in Hodeida in a credible and verifiable way. We are working with the parties to ensure this takes place very soon.”
“We are planning to convene the next round of political consultations soon. As I mentioned, we do not want to lose the momentum created in Sweden.
However, we all are on the same page that we need to see progress in implementing what was agreed in Sweden before convening the next round of consultations. We hope we will be able to announce the date of the next round of consultations very soon.”
In 2018, Griffiths said the biggest challenge ahead was not to disappoint the Yemeni people. For a nation that has been suffering the horrors of war, the Yemenis are pinning their hopes on Griffiths, praying they will not be disappointed again.
The Yemenis hope the answer to the question ‘When will the war end?’ is soon — very soon.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 31 January, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Sweden accord at risk of collapse