UN envoy to Yemen says ‘shift’ on Stockholm deal taking place year on from agreement

UN envoy to Yemen says ‘shift’ on Stockholm deal taking place year on from agreement
UN envoy to Yemen says ‘shift’ on Stockholm deal taking place year on from agreement

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The UN special envoy to Yemen hailed efforts towards the implementation of the historic Stockholm deal as he landed in Riyadh on Tuesday to push forward the peace process aimed at ending the devastating war.

Martin Griffiths brokered the agreement between Yemen’s internationally recognised government and Houthi rebels a year ago in Sweden.

The deal includes a ceasefire and troop withdrawal in the port city of Hodeidah, the opening of a humanitarian corridor and a prisoner swap between the rebels and government.

But efforts towards implementing the agreement has stalled over the last 12 months due to lack of trust between the warring sides.

“What I believe is happening now in Yemen is that at last in Yemen, we're beginning to see that shift take place,” Mr Griffiths told the United Nations News outlet.

“We're beginning to see in the hearts and minds of those who make decisions about the war, the desire to make peace and the recognition at a fundamental level that there is no prospect for military advantage; that there is nothing to be won on the battlefield, and that there is a huge victory, of course, to be made in the terrain of negotiation,” the special envoy said.

Peace arrangements must be inclusive if they are to prosper, he stressed.

The envoy met with Houthi representatives in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, on Tuesday before travelling to Saudi Arabia.

The deal reached in Sweden last year is seen as a crucial confidence building measure to help Yemen’s warring sides negotiate a political settlement to end the country’s devastating war.

The meeting was the first for Yemen’s warring sides since peace talks faltered in Kuwait in 2016.

It was also the first time since the start of the conflict that they could come to an agreement on several important issues to alleviate the humanitarian situation in Yemen.

“Yes, certainly, there have been achievements,” Mr Griffiths said.

“People's lives have been saved, the humanitarian programme has been protected, and I think it also showed that the parties could actually agree on a different way out of a crisis.”

But the special envoy expressed concern over the lack of progress on the prisoner exchange deal, a pivotal element of the deal.

The exchange deal was stalled as the two sides struggled to agree on its implementation during talks in Amman, Jordan, earlier this year.

Talks in Amman verified the names of around 15,000 prisoners to be exchanged by both sides but thousands of detainees remain under rebel control.

“Many people, and I'm one of them, believe we could have done a much better job of implementing the Stockholm Agreement in these 12 months. And it has been for many of us, but particularly for the people in Yemen for whom it's a primary issue, a disappointment in many, many ways,” Mr Griffiths said.

The implementation of the Hodeidah deal is yet to be carried out and is currently at a standstill.

The Stockholm pact had stipulated that Houthi forces leave Hodeidah port and two other ports and that international monitors be deployed.

The monitors would then oversee a complete withdrawal of troops of both sides from the city, which would be run by “local authorities” under United Nations supervision.

Under the deal, both sides were to withdraw their troops by early January, but the agreement did not spell out who would control Hodeidah city after the rebel withdrawal.

Mr Griffiths said “negotiations are still ongoing over re-deployments to de-militarise Hodeidah,” where troops allied to both sides are currently observing the fragile ceasefire.

“We came out of the Sweden talks very buoyed by the fact that, for the first time ever, the two parties had made a voluntary agreement between themselves. So, we were very pleased about that”, the special envoy said.

What the negotiations in the Swedish capital showed was that there are remains many issues to resolve, he said.

“What it really taught me very, very strongly was that there are certain issues which will not be resolved by agreements at the sub-national level; specific agreements on different places,” he said.

“We have to address the fundamental issues of sovereignty, of legitimacy, through an agreement to end the war.”

The next step towards the implementation of the deal would be another round of talks, which can be expected sometime next year, a Yemeni government official told The National.

“We are hoping and pushing for a breakthrough,” the official said.

Updated: December 17, 2019 06:59 PM

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