A two-month window for Yemen to find peace

A new extension to a ceasefire struck in April must include negotiations for a lasting solution to end eight years of horrific violence

Yemeni pupils attend a class on the second day of the new school year in the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa, on August 2, 2022.  AFP
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In the scheme of Yemen's almost eight-year civil war, two months of relative calm might only seem like a small, tentative step in the right direction. But the conflict has been so terrible that any lull in fighting merits celebration at the highest levels of international diplomacy.

The world can now celebrate such a step, after the UN announced on Tuesday that warring parties in the country have agreed to extend a two-month ceasefire, which was first struck on April 2, for the second time. If it holds, it means Yemen will have enjoyed half a year of relative peace by October 2.

Welcoming the announcement of a second extension, US President Joe Biden said the ceasefire had brought a period of "unprecedented calm". He is right. Over the past eight years, extreme violence in the country has caused one of the worst humanitarian crises today, leaving more than 23 million people in need of assistance this year, in areas including food, medicine, hygiene and education. The country is fractured and divided, and a belligerent stalemate and new global conflicts had risked the world diverting its attention elsewhere. Now, as a result of the extension, Yemenis can for the most part think beyond the basics of protecting their families from violence for another two months.

But the extension is not just about a cessation of fighting. It is also about the potential for longer-term solutions to be found. Mr Biden urged Yemeni parties “to seize this opportunity to work constructively under UN auspices to reach an inclusive, comprehensive agreement that includes steps to improve freedom of movement and expanded salary payments and that paves the way for a durable, Yemeni-led resolution to the conflict". He also thanked the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Oman for helping to bring about the extension.

Yemenis now have the space to start thinking about such solutions. The priority in war will always be safety, but without work on significant measures, the foundations for peace will never be laid. One such priority is ending the Houthi siege of the south-western city of Taez. There has been some limited progress in recent months. In June, the rebels said they had agreed to reopen two roads around the city. Two months more of constructive peace must finish the job. In terms of movement, more destinations should also be opened to and from the country and the crucial port and logistics hub of Hodeidah must be revived as much as possible.

Most urgently of all, the UN envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, shared that the extension included a commitment from all sides "to intensify negotiations to reach an expanded truce agreement as soon as possible". The very fact that officials are able to contemplate progress in these areas is good news. Statements of the same kind over the past eight years would typically have struck a far more sombre, perhaps even steadily resigned tone, calling for a cessation of awful violence and the urgent need to respond to the humanitarian crisis.

This question is still there, as are groups in Yemen in whose interests it is for the war to continue. The increasingly peace-minded majority can best triumph over them by committing to upcoming negotiations and extending the ceasefire further if needed. Importantly, having a legitimate and internationally recognised government leading the country is key.

Yemen is still only at the beginning of a better future, and there is uncertainty as to whether it will last. Nonetheless, it is a beginning that has been hard to contemplate for a very long time, that is proving durable and which is maintaining the attention of the international community. That is why, however tentative, it deserves celebration.

Published: August 04, 2022, 3:00 AM