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Pessimism Hangs Over Yemen Peace Talks As UN Tries To Avert Mass Famine

By Terrance J. Mintner | The Media Line

December 6, 2018

UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths (C- 2nd R) attends a press conference during the opening session of Yemen peace talks in the town of Rimbo, close to Stockholm, on Thursday. (Atila Altuntas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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The summit, set to begin in Sweden, is being billed as ‘informal’ with the goal of ‘building confidence’ toward a humanitarian relief operation

United Nations-brokered peace talks between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels are set to commence in Sweden on Thursday. The summit’s ostensible aim is to end four years of war that has pushed 14 million Yemenis – already living in impoverished conditions – to the brink of starvation.

Coupled with the outbreak of cholera and other diseases, observers have designated it as one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent times.

UN officials have billed the talks taking place outside of Stockholm as “informal” with the goal of “building confidence.”

Yet many analysts are highly doubtful that any kind of diplomatic breakthrough or truce can be achieved. The deep distrust between the sides was on display when representatives of Yemen’s internationally recognized government, which is backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, flew to Sweden on Wednesday. The delegation, headed by Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, refused to fly until the Houthi team had landed.

“I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but if I were to be optimistic the best thing to come out of the meetings would be establishing a cease-fire,” Professor Natasha Ezrow, a Yemen expert and International Relations lecturer at the University of Essex, conveyed to The Media Line.

“This would open up Yemen’s ports and airports and enable the country to provide basic services to stop the huge death toll of civilians, who are dying not because of bombings or war, but because of famine and other diseases,” she noted.

“However, the Yemen state has never really been much of a provider of any services, which in itself is why I am pessimistic.”

According to many analysts, the talks are unlikely to alleviate the root causes of the conflict.

“The Houthis felt that for decades they have been neglected by the government,” Professor Ezrow elaborated. “They were never getting the jobs that others had; they weren’t receiving welfare; they were much poorer; and they have low literacy rates. So, these wounds and feelings run deep.

“This conflict will likely remain a low-level insurgency. Unless the Houthis become satisfied with the results of negotiations, these wars tend to drag on for many years,” she concluded.

Charles Garraway, a Yemen expert and former human rights lawyer, told The Media Line that the only way to relieve the tremendous suffering in Yemen is through a cessation of hostilities. Otherwise, “a huge humanitarian aid operation for the country will not happen.”

The impetus for the summit, he continued, “is so that Yemen is no longer considered the ‘forgotten war.’ Because nobody got in there for the first three or four years nothing was reported. But suddenly with not just an increased focus on Yemen, but also the Jamal Khashoggi killing, the conflict has become big news.”

Garraway attributed the humanitarian crisis to the embargo on goods entering the country, which has caused a spike in prices for shippers and buyers. “At the same time, you have the complete collapse of the Yemeni economy with the currency going into free-fall. So, even when there is food available, it is outside the financial reach of most people.”

In 2014, the Iran-backed Houthis seized control of western Yemen and forced President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to seek refuge abroad. Alarmed by a Shiite group deemed an Iranian proxy, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and several other Sunni states intervened. After bombing campaigns by the coalition, the rebels lost some territory but still control large swathes of the country, including the strategic port city of Hodeida.

According to Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, which tracks the war, the total death toll stands at nearly 60,000.

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