By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, September 7 -- The UN Secretariat's bungling of Yemen mediation has become ever more clear, according to multiple sources and documents exclusively seen by Inner City Press, see below.
On September 5 as airstrikes on Sana'a picked up force, there was no comment from the UN or its envoy Ismail Ould Cheihk Ahmed. Nor on September 6. On September 7, the UN finally spoke -- not about the airstrikes but about a leak:
"The Special Envoy for Yemen of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is disturbed by press reports regarding the leak of internal United Nations correspondence. The content of these reports, especially in some Yemeni media outlets and Internet sites, constitute distortions and misinterpretations. These reports do not reflect the position of the Special Envoy or of the United Nations."
A well placed UN source told Inner City Press that the replacement envoy should never have commented on the leak, especially while remaining silent on the increased airstrikes and Qatar sending troops and Apache helicopters. Another source noted to Inner City Press that in the Security Council's last meeting on Yemen, those raising the mounting humanitarian toll were Venezuela, Chile and New Zealand. Consider again this, to USg Jeff Feltman:
Before traveling to Jeddah I held two days of meetings with Ansar Allah and GPC in Muscat in which I tried to convince them to improve upon the 10 points which they had submitted to me earlier. This was necessary to respond to concerns in Riyadh that the commitments to the implementation of 2216 were still inadequate and failed to include recognition of the legitimacy of the government.
AA/GPC agreed to a new wording on UNSC resolution 2216 that states unequivocally that they are committed to the full implementation of 2216, (see document attached) with the exception of article which infringe on Yemeni sovereignty and those related to sanctions.
In addition, the new text includes acceptance of the return of the current government for a period of sixty days during which a new government of national unity shall be formed. They also accepted to remove references to counter-terrorism and the Saudi border to which the GoY had objected, as well as the mandatory support by the international community for reconstruction that was in the earlier version. The latter was particularly opposed by KSA and GCC who did not want it to be interpreted as a form of mandatory compensation. Both Ansar Allah and GPC seemed positive and showed considerable flexibility.
My meetings followed two days of meetings between the Ansar Allah and KSA intelligence officers which were also attended by the US, UK and Oman. The discussions focused on possible confidence building measures such as a pullback from border areas in exchanges for a cessation of airstrikes and agreements in which they would cease operations within Saudi Arabia. This was the first time that Ansar Allah have been open to discuss limited and geographically specific agreement. Although they repeated that the return of President Hadi would be unacceptable, they expressed their openness to the return of the government for a limited time. The US Ambassador, Matt Tueller has been keeping me regularly informed of these discussions, which has been most helpful. The confidence building paper proposed by the Houthis to KSA is attached for reference.
Although US officials were disappointed that Saudis had sent relatively junior representatives, they still felt the meetings were positive, largely friendly and a good way for KSA to sound out Ansar Allah’s intentions. Ansar Allah and KSA agreed that there should be further meetings with hopefully more senior representation although no dates were agreed. The meetings unfortunately shed very little new light on KSA’s strategy in the conflict or their willingness to support a negotiated settlement in the near future.
The meetings in Muscat were of course heavily influenced by the military developments in Yemen. The coalition has not been able to make rapid progress since their successes in Aden, Abyan and Shabwa in August. Taiz remains contested and there are reports that Ansar Allah has regained some territory which had been lost in the past week. The coalition’s difficulties moving northward suggest that an assault on Sanaa would likely be difficult and time-consuming than they had previously expected.
The instability and violence which have plagued Aden following its capture is likely also a source of concern. The mostly pro-independence Hiraak fighters are unwilling to cooperate fully with the GoY in attempts to expand northward. This leaves the coalition dependent on ground troops from Islah, Salafi and AQAP related groups, which UAE is reluctant to support.
I believe, following my discussions in Muscat, that we now have a strong opportunity to obtain a peace deal, and avoid a violent confrontation in Sanaa, for the following three main reasons:
i) The revised paper (attached) is much stronger and contains serious concessions by the H/GPC. It will be difficult, at this stage, to push them towards further concessions.
ii) The recent slower advance of the GoY affiliated forces around Taez and Maarib could also offer another opportunity.
iii) The on-going insecurity and lawlessness in Aden, and the increased visibility of AQAP in Aden region in the aftermath of the liberation of the city by the GoY and Coalition forces, has started to raise serious concerns for UAE, and in some KSA circles.
In light of the above, I have reached the conclusion that we should now move towards a new round of direct talks, two and half months after our first round in Geneva. My recent shuttling has now reached a point whereby it is becoming somewhat transactional with the Special Envoy obtaining a paper from one side and seeking comments/acceptance by the other side. I do not think we can sustain this and I recommend we move to a more strategic phase. I recommend holding this next round of talks in Oman Sultanate as a first choice, which seems to be acceptable to the Omanis and all parties, especially KSA. My second proposed option would be Kuwait, however the Houthis are still hesitant about this potential venue. Ideally, we should aim at holding this meeting before Eid.
My discussions in Jeddah and Riyadh will be explicitly in favour of moving to peace talks phase as opposed to continuing this shuttling around papers/proposals. I have first indications that Abu Ali and Matt Tueller are supportive of this new approach. In this regard, it was important to time my visit to Jeddah before the meeting between King Salman and President Obama tomorrow. Eric Polovski – White House NSC – who was just recently in Muscat is also fully on board on this.
I am conscious that the implementation of this new proposal depends very much on the GoY's openness and the KSA genuine support (and not only on what I am hearing from Abu Ali). But this proposal is also the only way to keep the UN's efforts at the center of the mediation process and to avoid a fatigue among our various stakeholders, especially the H/GPC. This is why I once again need the support of the SG and the P5.
Best regards. Ismail
Muscat Principles for a Solution to the Political Crisis in Yemen
Commitment by all parties to implement relevant UNSC resolutions including resolution 2216, according to an implementation mechanism to be agreed upon, and without infringing on national sovereignty, and with reservations regarding the sanctions against Yemeni citizens.
A permanent and comprehensive cease-fire by all parties with the withdrawal of all armed groups and militias from the cities, according to an agreed mechanism to avoid any security and administrative vacuum along with lifting of the land, sea and air blockade.
Agreement on neutral monitoring instrument in order to verify implementation of the mechanisms mentioned above that will be agreed upon, under the auspices of the United Nations.
To respect international humanitarian law, including the elements relating to the protection of civilians and the release of prisoners and detainees from all parties, including those mentioned in UNSC resolution, and to facilitate humanitarian relief and allow the entry of commercial goods, food, medical supplies, oil derivatives and other essential good without restriction.
Kaled Bahah’s government, formed by consensus, returns and performs its tasks as a caretaker government for a period not extending 60 days, during which a government of national unity is formed, in a way that does not violate the constitution.
To resume and accelerate United Nations-brokered negotiations, according to the UNSC resolution.
All parties are obliged to hand over heavy weapons to the State in accordance with the outcomes of the Comprehensive National Dialogue."
On September 1 the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights raised its estimate of civilians killed to 2,112 (from March 26 to August 27), with 4,519 civilians injured in that period in what OHCHR called a "conservative estimate."
OHCHR cited an airstrike on Taiz on August 20 which killed 53 civilians. OHCHR said "Fifty-three of these civilian deaths occurred on 20 August, reportedly as result of a series of airstrikes by Saudi-led coalition forces that hit 20 homes near Salah Palace in Taiz. According to local reports, active fighters in the Houthi popular committees were believed to be based in the Salah Palace at the time." Believed? Question to OHCHR in this case: what is international law?
Or this one: "attacks by coalition forces on Hodeidah port, which is a key entry point for humanitarian supplies and commercial imports into Yemen."
UN Relief Chief Stephen O'Brien on August 19 told the UN Security Council, "To date only 18 percent, some $282 million, of the $1.6 billion requested through the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan has been received. UN agencies have still not received the funding from Saudi Arabia of $274 million pledged in April."
After O'Brien said that, Inner City Press asked Yemen's Permanent Representative at the UN, down the hall toward the Trusteeship Council Chamber, about it. He told Inner City Press, among other things, that explains the request for a UN "liaison" in Riyadh.
After the Security Council's triplet of meetings on Yemen, Syria and South Sudan ended on August 19, Inner City Press asked New Zealand's Permanent Representative Gerard van Bohemen "On Yemen. Mr O’Brien said that Saudi Arabia haven’t paid the pledge and that there was some dispute about the UN sending maybe somebody to be a liaison, what was said about actually getting aid unblocked?"
Ambassador van Bohemen replied, "I think you need to talk to him about it. What he explained was there’s been quite a complicated discussion going with the Saudi government about the terms on which the money will be made available, but he knows the detail about it, I don’t."
We still hope to have more on this.