Tomorrow morning (8 September), Security Council members will convene for closed consultations on Yemen. The expected briefers are Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg, OCHA Director of Operations and Advocacy Reena Ghelani, and Head of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) Major General Michael Beary.
Given that this month’s regular Yemen meeting will be held in closed consultations, it may allow for a franker discussion between Grundberg and Council members about the Envoy’s efforts to secure an extension and expansion of the truce agreement. The truce, which went into effect on 2 April, has been extended every two months, producing the longest reduction in hostilities during Yemen’s more than seven-year war.
The current arrangement expires on 2 October. As Grundberg noted in his last briefing to the Council on 15 August, he would like to expand the elements of the truce agreement by establishing the payment of civil servants’ salaries and pensions, adding more international flight destinations from Sana’a airport, facilitating the regular flow of fuel into Hodeidah port and opening roads in Taiz and elsewhere. He also seeks to renew the truce for a longer duration to provide more space to negotiate a formal ceasefire, conduct talks on economic and security issues and prepare to eventually resume political talks for a negotiated settlement to the war.
During tomorrow’s meeting, Grundberg is likely to reference the Houthi attack near Taiz city on 28 August, which he strongly condemned in a 31 August statement. The Yemeni government said that ten government soldiers were killed and seven wounded in the fighting. The UN Envoy could observe tomorrow that the attack, in addition to demonstrating the truce’s fragility, took place as representatives of the parties to the Military Coordination Committee (MCC) convened in Amman to hold their fourth meeting. The MCC, which is overseen by the Special Envoy’s military adviser, manages the military aspects of the truce and facilitates dialogue. Because of the attack, the Yemeni government delegation did not participate in the meeting; instead, MCC members only met bilaterally with the Envoy’s military adviser.
Grundberg is also likely to report on his recent regional engagements. On 31 August, he concluded a visit to Riyadh, after meeting with Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad BinMubarak and other Yemeni and Saudi officials. He then visited Tehran from 3 to 5 September, where he met with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. Yesterday (6 September) he concluded a two-day visit to Muscat, where he was expected to meet with Omani officials and Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam, followed by more meetings yesterday and today (7 September) in Riyadh.
Council members hope that a longer truce extension can be secured beyond the customary two-month renewal so that mediation efforts can focus on broader issues that must be addressed to sustain the truce and the reduction in fighting. They are likely to be interested in hearing Grundberg’s realistic assessment of the possibility of an extension and expansion of the agreement following his latest regional meetings. Members may have a keen interest in his impressions from Iran, particularly on whether Tehran could put pressure on the Houthis, who have thus far resisted making concessions over opening roads to the besieged city of Taiz. The deadlock in talks on opening the roads, even before the 28 August attack, has appeared to undermine confidence between the parties and the prospects for an expanded armistice framework.
Another worrying sign, which General Beary is likely to address, is the Houthi military parade which took place on 1 September in Hodeidah. The parade displayed drones, mines, and land-based anti-ship missiles; according to some media reports, about 25,000 Houthi soldiers participated in the show of force. UNMHA described the parade as a violation of the December 2018 Hodeidah Agreement and reiterated its appeal to Houthi leadership “to fully respect their obligations under the Agreement, particularly as it pertains to keeping the City free of military manifestations”.
Tomorrow’s consultations may also provide an opportunity for Council members to raise concerns about developments in southern Yemen, which have shown the fragility of Yemen’s eight-member Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) and the ability of anti-Houthi forces to maintain a united front against the group. The Giants Brigades—whose commander, Abdulrahman Abu Zara’a, is a member of the PLC—and the Shabwani Defense Forces drove security forces affiliated with Yemen’s Islamist party Islah from the southern Shabwa governorate during fighting from 8 to 11 August. Islah’s representative on the PLC, Abdullah al-Alimi, initially resigned in response but was later persuaded to rescind his decision.
This was followed by the 22 August announcement by Aidarous al-Zubaidi, a PLC member who leads the United Arab Emirates-backed separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), of a military operation in Abyan governorate to “cleanse [Abyan] of terrorist organisations”. PLC chairman Rashad al-Alimi issued a notice to al-Zubaidi ordering a halt to the operation. Yesterday, the STC announced that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants ambushed an STC checkpoint in Abyan, killing at least 20 soldiers. Council members may discuss and seek Grundberg’s advice on how they can help preserve the unity of the PLC, which was only established in April.
Ghelani may discuss during her briefing how Yemen’s depreciating currency, the rise in global fuel and food prices, and the severe humanitarian funding gap continue to drive Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, despite the benefits from reduced hostilities. OCHA’s latest humanitarian update, dated 4 September, notes that food insecurity in Yemen has reached its highest point since the conflict escalated in 2015, with 19 million people estimated to be experiencing acute food insecurity.
Among other issues, OCHA has been alerting Council members for months about threats against and intimidation of relief workers that are affecting aid operations. In February, five UN staffers were kidnapped in Abyan. Ghelani may mention that this weekend (3 September), AQAP released the first recorded video of one of the staffers, Bangladeshi national Akam Sofyol Anam, who is in need of urgent medical treatment, according to reports.