Small steps towards peace talks to end Yemen conflict
UN-mediated political consultations held in Sweden to end the civil war in Yemen appear to have made some breakthroughs which may pave the way to future peace talks.It's the first time parties in the conflict have met face to face.
Yemen’s civil war between the former government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Houthis has been going on now for nearly four years.
The war has killed some 65,000 and created a one of the worst famines, with some 85,000 children thought to have died from hunger.
The United Nations is now seeking five billion dollars in humanitarian aid to help 70 percent of Yemenis that have been effected by the fighting.
Previous talks over the years have proven futile, with the last round not even resulting in face-to-face discussions.
Since 6 December, progress has been made at these discussions being held in the Swedish town of Rimbo until 13 December.
Milestones so far
Firstly, representatives from the two sides, from the Houthis and from al-Hadi's government, are meeting face to face.
Secondly, on 10 December, the UN plan proposed today to seek control of the Hodeida air and sea port.
This is the port that has been fought over ferociously by the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition.
The proposal sets out “joint committees between the Houthis and the Hadi government” explains Hisham Al-Omeisy, an analyst on the Yemen war. “And they [the UN] will oversee the demilitarization of Hodeida city initially, not the governorate."
"And the ports are going to be run by the UNVIM, which is basically the monitoring institution.”
He adds the UN would also oversee the demining of Hodeida city.
So in short “it's going to be joint committees and non-military committees which is a good thing" notes Al-Omeisy.
Prisoner swap major step forward
And thirdly, there was an agreement to exchange prisoners on both sides, between 5000 to 6000.
The prisoner swap is seen as a major stepping stone. "Both sides have been involved in extra-judicial detentions as well as forcible disappearances" says Al-Omeisy.
“People have been captured from both sides, they are going to be exchanging prisoners from both sides. So the people captured by the Houthis are going to be moving to areas that are under control of Hadi's government, and vice-versa from the Hadi government ….So there's a highly unlikelihood of them being captured again.”
But while these are indeed milestones, Al-Omeisy cautions that these are not peace talks.
“The current political consultations [will] hopefully develop into peace talks” he says.
US vote on Senate Joint Resolution 54
Another player in this situation has been the United States. This week a resolution for Washington to stop helping the Saudi-led coaltion will be voted on in the Senate.
Al-Omeisy says regardless of the outcome, little impact will be felt given the coalition “will do whatever it wants in the region regardllles of who supports it”.
But Will Picard from the Yemen Peace Project see it differently.
Although President Donald Trump has said if the resolution is passed he will not abide by it, he adds “… there is an unprecedented level of opposition to the war in both the Senate and House of Representatives, so it is likely we'll see more efforts to limit or end US support for the Saudi-led coalition in the coming months.”
Picard adds that such action, regardless of the outcome, will still send a powerful message.
Best case scenario?
At this point, assuming all parties abide by a UN-controlled port Hodeida, and that the prisoner swap goes ahead, then peace talks can be put into place soon. At some point there will hopefully be talk of a transitional government.
Two coalitions at this point cannot work. And tensions will immediately erupt if one side takes over from the other. At this point there has been no significant military win.
So perhaps a transitional government would be the next significant step in ending the war in Yemen.