Yemen in Focus: Talks all round signal a positive step towards peace

Yemen in Focus: Talks all round signal a positive step towards peace
6 min read
08 October, 2019
This week we focus on dialogue among conflicting parties, talks of truce and a Houthi attack on Sudanese soldiers.
Hundreds of prisoners were released from Houthi prisons [Getty]

Among the most poignant developments from Yemen this week was the apparent fresh wave of dialogue between the conflicting parties across the country and beyond borders. 

On Monday, reports showed Yemen's internationally recognised government and southern separatists were holding indirect negotiations and were allegedly close to reaching a power-sharing agreement, according to sources from both sides.

The two camps have been for weeks in indirect and discreet talks in Saudi Arabia's western city of Jeddah with the kingdom's mediation, an official from the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) told AFP. 

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there has been "a lot of progress" in the past couple of days.

A Yemeni government source confirmed that talks between the two parties have been ongoing.  

The talks, if indeed true, could prove to be a welcome move for both sides after a rough few months brought the allies to breaking point.

In August, fighting between the two camps – both of which are battling Yemen's Houthi rebels alongside each other – opened a new front in the country's complex war.

But sources from both sides told AFP on Monday that they are close to reaching a power-sharing deal.  

"The agreement would stipulate that the government return to Aden and that the Security Belt Forces be responsible for security under the supervision of the Saudis," a source informed about the negotiations told AFP. 

The source also said that the deal would include "the participation of the STC in government".

The Security Belt Forces – dominated by the secessionist STC – in August took control of the southern city of Aden, which has served as the government's base since it was ousted from the capital Sanaa by the Houthi rebels in 2014. 

The clashes between the UAE-backed separatists and Saudi-backed government forces – who for years fought on the same side against the Houthis – have raised fears that the country could break apart entirely. News of talks between the two camps could quash such fears.

Allies make-up

Meanwhile, the government and the separatists are not the only two camps to come to the table. Top officials from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, leading players in the coalition battling the rebels, have also come together to discuss military cooperation following a positive response by Riyadh to a truce offer from the Houthi rebels. 

Saudi's deputy defence minister Prince Khalid bin Salman met with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in the UAE capital to discuss "coordination and joint action in defence and military affairs", Emirati state news agency WAM reported on Monday.

The two officials, who spoke late on Sunday, also discussed the "challenges" facing the Gulf region and "their implications on the security" of the region, WAM said.

Last week, Prince Khalid said on Twitter that a truce offer made last month by Yemen's Houthi rebels was "perceived positively" by the kingdom and hoped it would be "implemented effectively". 

Shortly after, the rebel's released prisoners in a move that was widely seen as a positive step and a welcome development in the five-year stagnant conflict.

Some 290 prisoners, including dozens of survivors from a Saudi-led coalition strike on a detention centre earlier this month, were among those released on Monday, the ICRC confirmed last week.

The International Committee of the Red Cross hailed the move as "a positive step that will hopefully revive the release, transfer and repatriation of conflict-related detainees" under a deal struck last year between the rebels and Yemen's government.

The United Nations' special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, welcomed the initiative to "unilaterally release detainees".

"I hope this step will lead to further initiatives that will facilitate the exchange of all the conflict-related detainees as per the Stockholm Agreement," Griffiths said, referring to the 2018 accord.

He called on all parties to work together to speed prisoner releases, saying they and their families had "endured profound pain and suffering." 

In a statement, he urged the parties to meet at the "nearest opportunity" to resume the discussions on future exchanges.

However, and as expected, fighting continued in Yemen despite the talks.

On Monday, Yemen's Houthi rebels said they had killed several Sudanese soldiers in a missile strike in the country's third largest Taiz city on Monday.

The strike targeted a "gathering of Sudanese soldiers in Al-Waziya junction area of Taiz at midnight on Monday," the rebels Al-Masirah channel reported.

"The attack successfully killed and injured a number of Sudanese soldiers," the group said, without providing specific numbers.

The Saudi-led coalition, of which Sudan is a member, has yet to comment on the claims.

Sudanese opposition figures have called on their country's transitional government to bring back Sudanese soldiers fighting for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, including child soldiers and mercenaries, according to a report published last month. 

Spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals Association, El Rashid Saeed urged the country's new government to work towards ending the war in Yemen and bring Sudanese troops back home.

"We do not want the war to continue in Yemen," said Saeed in a press conference. "We want the talks to go on according to the plan prepared by the United Nations.

"I think Sudan can play a role in this regard through giving an ultimatum to its allies in the Arab coalition, for the sake of the peaceful solution that will guarantee the withdrawal of our forces without harming the relations with other countries."

Thousands of soldiers

At any time in the past four and a half years, as many as 14,000 Sudanese militiamen were fighting in Yemen with local militia aligned with the Saudis, according to an Al Jazeera report. Many of these, the report adds, were children and mercenaries.

There are "between 8,000 and 14,000 Sudanese paramilitary forces are fighting in Yemen," Noha Aboueldahab, from Brookings Doha Centre, told Al Jazeera.

"Sudanese mercenaries, many of them children from Darfur, have been lured into fighting on the ground in Yemen in exchange for financial compensation." 

The decision to join the Saudi-led war against Houthis in Yemen was made by former dictator Omar al-Bashir, whose current trial revealed he received millions in illicit cash funds from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

In December, The New York Times reported that Riyadh offered impoverished Sudanese families up to $10,000 to send their children to fight in Yemen.

"Families know that the only way their lives will change is if their sons join the war and bring them back money," the New York Times quoted one Sudanese child soldier as saying.

The report said that children made up at least 20 percent, and sometimes 40 percent, of the Sudanese battalion in Yemen.

Many had been brought in from the Darfur region of the west of Sudan, where some 300,000 people were killed and 1.2 million displaced during years of conflict. Saudi Arabia denied the reports earlier this year.

Since 2015, Riyadh has led a military coalition in support of Yemen's internationally recognised government against the Iran-backed Houthis. 

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians, according to humanitarian organisations, and left Yemen faced with what the UN terms the world's worst humanitarian crisis. 

Sana Uqba is a journalist at The New Arab. 

Follow her on Twitter: @Sanasiino 

Yemen In Focus is a new, regular feature from The New Arab.