Houthis demand civil service wage dispute resolved before any ceasefire talks

Internationally recognised Yemeni government says it is committed to paying state employees' salaries

Pro-Houthi forces take part in a parade in Yemen's Red Sea port city of Hodeidah. EPA
Powered by automated translation

Iran-backed Houthi rebels have repeated their demand that a dispute with Yemen's internationally recognised government over civil servants' wages must be resolved before they can agree to a permanent ceasefire.

It came as the Yemeni government said it had reaffirmed a commitment to paying salaries, and a former government minister said the Houthis' claims were nothing new.

“We are working to get to a clear stage in Yemen where we can reach a truce or a permanent ceasefire,” rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam told the Houthi-run Al Masirah TV on Monday morning.

Efforts to restart peace negotiations between the Houthis and the Yemeni government have stalled in recent months, with the salaries of civil servants a major sticking point.

Mr Abdulsalam said any solution must be based on disbursing employee salaries from oil and gas revenue, according to the 2014 budget — the year the civil war began.

Other Houthi conditions include the reopening of Sanaa airport and roads, said the rebel spokesman.

Barring an official agreement to halt the violence, a return to full-scale war will remain an option despite the relative calm, former Yemeni diplomat, ambassador and Deputy Foreign Minister Mustapha Noman told The National.

“Both sides of the military equation have reached the point of fatigue and aren't rushing towards resumption of military actions,” he said.

It is the “strong will” in Riyadh to stay on the path of peace that has kept the truce unofficially in effect, Mr Noman said.

“Of course, one shouldn't disregard the possibility of a military agreement between Riyadh and the Houthis, although this can't be concluded without serious guaranteed commitments that hostilities in Yemen will not start again.”

Mr Noman also said the Houthis' comments on salaries are “nothing new”.

An Omani delegation visited Sanaa in early December in a bid to mediate between the government of Yemen and the Houthis.

Mr Abdulsalam said the payment of salaries and the reopening Sanaa airport and the port of Hodeidah were discussed in meetings with Omani officials.

He also said the UN was “informed” of the outcomes of the militants' meetings with the Omani mediators.

Yemen’s civil war began when the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of the northern parts of the country, forcing the Yemeni government into exile.

In early 2015, a Saudi-led coalition intervened at the request of the internationally recognised government.

Both sides accepted a truce for two months at the start of Ramadan last April. It was subsequently extended three times, but talks to further extend it beyond October stalled.

The latest Houthi comments came hours after Yemeni President Rashad Al Alimi reaffirmed the Yemeni government’s commitment to continuing to work with international partners to end the war.

“We reaffirm our commitment to continuing to work together closely on alleviating the human suffering caused by the terrorist Iranian-backed Houthi militia, including regular payment of salaries for civilian and military forces, diplomatic missions, in addition to dues of scholarship students, according to the comprehensive state reforms,” Mr Al Alimi wrote on Twitter on New Year's Day.

Mr Al Alimi, who heads the Presidential Leadership Council, had previously said the government would be unable to pay civil servant salaries because of Houthi attacks.

The Houthis have been pushing the Yemeni government to pay salaries according to a 2022 payroll that contains employees working for Houthi-run state institutions.

The internationally recognised government said it would make such payments according to a payroll from 2014.

Last year, the UN reported that the conflict had resulted in more than 377,000 deaths, severe food insecurity, critical infrastructure damage and the collapse of essential services.

More than four million people have been displaced and 15.6 million people have fallen into extreme poverty, said the UN.

Updated: January 02, 2023, 8:14 PM