After close to five years of war that has killed close to 100,000 people, it is fervently to be hoped that peace may yet return to embattled Yemen. The hope springs from Tuesday’s power-sharing agreement signed by Yemen’s UNrecognised government with separatists in the south of the country.
In a remarkable instance of regional cooperation, Saudi Arabia has played the role of broker to forge a deal that envisages the creation of a cohesive government capable of challenging Houthi forces.
Clearly, there are two entities working at cross-purposes, and fears that the warlike tension may not have been wholly defused are potentially real. The clashes between separatists and government forces ~ who for years had fought on the same side against the Houthis ~ had raised fears that the country could break apart entirely.
It also exposed a rift between normal Gulf allies, preeminently the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Three months ago, the separatists took control of Aden, which has served as the beleaguered government’s base ever since it was ousted from the capital, Sana’a, by Houthi rebels in 2014. The agreement, formally sealed at a signing ceremony in Riyadh on Tuesday, is short on specifics but is expected to share out ministries equally between the UN-backed government led by Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the backers of the President of the Southern Transitional Council, Aidarus alZoubaidi.
The deal provides for the return of the UN-backed government to Aden within seven days in an effort to reactivate state institutions. The separatists also agreed to disband their militias, which would be integrated into Hadi’s forces within three months. The Southern Transitional Council will be represented fully in any talks on the future of Yemen, to be overseen by the UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths.
If it doesn’t turn out to be fragile, the agreement is an important step in the collective efforts to advance a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Yemen, indeed a case-study in concerted conflict resolution.
The views of the southern stakeholders are important to the political efforts to achieve peace in the country. The UN has been anxious to avoid excluding the southern forces, since any agreement reached without their inclusion is likely to fall apart.
The agreement must at the end of the day lead to substantive talks on Yemen’s future. In recent weeks, Saudi Arabia has increased its military presence in southern Yemen, airlifting additional troops, armoured vehicles, tanks and other military equipment. And since July, the UAE has been pulling troops out of Yemen, leaving the coalition with a weakened ground presence and fewer tactical options.
However, there is a scintilla of hope with Saudi Arabia initiating talks with Yemen’s Iranbacked Houthi rebels in an attempt to end the country’s civil war. The multilateral cocktail is complex in itself.