What's In Blue

Posted Mon 19 Aug 2019

Yemen Briefing and Consultations

On 20 August, the Security Council is expected to hold a briefing on Yemen. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths (via VTC from Amman), and UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller are expected to brief. This will be followed by closed consultations. Council members may resume consideration of a press statement that was under discussion earlier this month, which could, among various points, touch on the situation in Aden.

Much of the discussion is likely to focus on Aden. From 7 to 10 August, fighting between southern separatists and Yemeni government troops, who have been nominally allied as part of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition against the Houthi rebel group, resulted in separatists taking control of Aden, Yemen’s interim capital since 2015.

Tensions had been building since 1 August when a ballistic missile reportedly fired by the Houthis struck the al-Galaa base in Aden during a military parade of the Security Belt, a southern militia trained and paid by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to the Yemen Panel of Experts. At least 36 soldiers were killed in the strike. Earlier that day, an attack claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on a police station in Aden killed 12 police. The Southern Transitional Council (STC), which has the stated aim of an independent south Yemen, claimed that Yemen’s Sunni Islamist Islah party was complicit in the missile attack. Islah is a prominent actor within the Yemeni government.

Fighting began after the funeral procession of a senior military commander, Monier “Abu al-Yamamah” al Yafie, who had been killed in the missile strike. By 10 August, separatist forces had taken control of military bases and government institutions, including the presidential palace and Central Bank. (Yemen’s President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi has continued to reside in Riyadh throughout the war). According to OCHA, as many as 40 people were killed over the four days of fighting, and 260 injured.

On 10 August, Saudi Arabia invited all the parties in Aden for talks in Jeddah. The Saudi Arabia-led coalition, which includes the UAE among its members, called for an immediate ceasefire, warning that military force would be used against anyone who violates it, and called for southern forces to withdraw from positions they had seized.

Griffiths is likely to provide an update on the situation. When the fighting started, he issued a statement expressing alarm over the escalation, and called on the parties in Aden to abandon violence and engage in dialogue to resolve differences. His calls were echoed in a 9 August statement by the Secretary-General. Griffiths may repeat these points and take note of Saudi Arabia’s proposal to host talks. The Yemeni government has described the developments as a coup and said it would participate in talks only after southern forces withdraw from areas forcibly seized, and return arms that were taken from the military bases. The STC announced that it was ready to attend the summit. While southern forces have reportedly withdrawn from some government institutions, they remain in the captured military bases. The STC has also repeated calls that it be included in future UN-led peace talks, which to date have been between the government and the Houthis.

Beyond developments in Aden, Griffiths is likely to brief on continuing efforts to implement last December’s Stockholm Agreement to demilitarise the port city of Hodeidah and two nearby smaller ports; exchange prisoners; and de-escalate fighting in Taiz. Just ahead of the Council’s 18 July briefing on Yemen, the government and the Houthis agreed on the concept of operations for redeployments from Hodeidah city, but the process has not been able to begin due to a lack of agreement on the composition of the local forces to take over security. There has been no new progress on the Stockholm Agreement’s other components. The envoy may reiterate concerns over other frontline fighting and the Houthis’ ongoing drone attacks against Saudi Arabia. On 17 August, Houthi drones targeted Saudi Arabia’s Shaybah oilfield, located more than 600 miles from Houthi-held territory.

Mueller is expected to speak about the impact of continued violence on civilians. This includes “strikes” that hit a house in Hajjah governorate on 12 August, killing 12 people, including 6 children, according to an OCHA statement. The statement noted that an estimated 230,000 people have died during the conflict, including 25,000 people in the past six months, from direct or indirect causes such as lack of food or medical services. Mueller may discuss access restrictions facing relief efforts, primarily in Houthi-controlled areas, though she could also note challenges with the government, including regulations on fuel imports. She is expected to report on the agreement announced on 9 August between the World Food Programme (WFP) and Houthi authorities to safeguard food assistance, which the WFP had partially suspended in Sana’a city in June, alleging the diversion of food aid for profit by Houthi authorities.

It is anticipated that Mueller will highlight the impact of funding shortages on relief efforts, with the 2019 humanitarian response remaining 34% funded, the same level reported by OCHA in July. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which committed $1.5 billion towards the plan, have so far failed to deliver the bulk of these funds. Among other issues, Mueller may provide an update on the effect of economic conditions on the humanitarian situation, including a decline in the Yemeni rial, hurting civilians’ ability to purchase essential imports, and findings from a recent International Monetary Fund mission on Yemen.

Council members can be expected to voice concern about the developments in Aden and underline their commitment to Yemen’s territorial integrity. They are likely to welcome Saudi Arabia’s proposal to host talks, and be interested in the role that the Special Envoy may play in this initiative.

Members are expected to reiterate the need for the parties to implement the Stockholm Agreement, expressing concern over its stagnation. The UN has yet to announce a replacement for General Michael Lollesgaard, who ended his tenure as the head of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) and chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) that oversees the Hodeidah agreement’s implementation. In discussing the humanitarian situation, Council members are likely to welcome the WFP’s recent agreement with the Houthis, while stressing the need for it to be implemented. Consultations could offer an opportunity to discuss with Griffiths what more the Council can do to support his efforts.

Earlier this month, the UK proposed a press statement on Yemen. But as negotiations on the statement continued and as tomorrow’s briefing neared, it seems that the penholder decided to put discussions on hold. Following tomorrow’s meeting, the UK may propose a revised version of the press statement.

In other developments, a Houthi delegation led by spokesperson Mohammed Abdul Salam visited Tehran last week. The delegation held meetings with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and appointed a Houthi ambassador to Tehran. On 17 August, Iran, the Houthi delegation, and the ambassadors to Iran of four EU countries (France, Germany, Italy and the UK) held a trilateral meeting about Yemen, according to Iran’s official news agency.

On Friday (23 August), the 2140 Yemen sanctions committee will meet to consider the Yemen Panel of Experts midterm update.

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