Observers fear Hodeidah deal may not lead to end of Yemen's war

Mutual trust remains the critical factor as fighting in port city delays implementation of ceasefire

FILE PHOTO: Houthi militants patrol a street where pro-Houthi protesters demonstrated against the Saudi-led coalition in Hodeidah, Yemen December 10, 2018. Picture taken December 10, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad/File Photo
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Yemen peace talks in Sweden succeeded in getting the warring sides to agree to a ceasefire in Hodeidah but experts are sceptical that de-escalation will guarantee lasting peace.

The UN-led consultations concluded on Thursday with a series of agreements that, if implemented, will alleviate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis and could pave the way for a negotiated peace.

The UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, told the Security Council on Friday that achieving the next steps towards peace “will be a daunting task.”

“The agreement is a humanitarian stopgap to save lives and turn the tide of war towards peace,” Mr Griffiths said.

The talks were an opportunity to give momentum to the peace process, he said.

But hours after the Hodeidah ceasefire agreement was announced, sporadic fighting broke out in the east of the province. Heavy clashes were reported in Hodeidah city on Saturday night, and on Sunday the UN announced that the ceasefire would start at midnight on Tuesday.

"The people who can stop the war are not necessarily the people who can build peace," a UN official told The National.

However, the UN believes that those who can take the first steps towards peace are the ones who are running the war, the official said.

“With any peace process that works you need to get to a moment where the two sides must stop insulting each other and start working with each other — that’s not easy to get to,” the UN official said.

Although the talks in Sweden began with low expectations, they achieved progress on a prisoner swap involving about 15,000 captives, scheduled to be completed by January 20, and most importantly the agreement on a ceasefire and withdrawal of all forces from the port city of Hodeidah.


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Bringing a halt to fighting in the city had been one of the UN's main goals for the talks, since its port is the main entry point for food and aid shipments to Yemen.

Cinzia Bianco, a senior analyst at Gulf State Analytics, said the Hodeidah deal is seen as a crucial step towards a diplomatic solution in Yemen.

"It is the first opportunity in a long time for all sides to show goodwill and start building some trust. Without a minimum degree of mutual confidence, a political solution to the conflict could never materialise," Ms Bianco told The National.

On the other hand, the rebels may not see losing Hodeidah as the end of their prospects, said Peter Salisbury, a Yemen expert at the International Crisis Group.

“Their military leadership may still be determined to hold on to the country’s mountainous heartland, including the capital, Sanaa,” Mr Salisbury said.

Both the truce along with the prisoner swap were seen as a crucial first step towards further talks in January aimed at drawing up a political framework to end a war that has killed thousands and left millions more in misery.

But the implementation of the deal on Hodeidah remains a huge challenge for the international community.

''A robust and competent monitoring regime is not just essential, it is urgently needed, '' Mr Griffiths told the Security Council.

A monitoring mechanism, which would need the backing of a council resolution, is being prepared and expected to be deployed within the next few days.

There is little guarantee that the Houthis will stick to what was agreed in Sweden, Ms Bianco said.

“But at the same time they remain under great pressure on the ground and their weakened position, militarily, is a strong push to get them to try and respect this agreement and get to a political solution,” she said.

So far, the only cause for hope is that the first steps have been taken towards peace.