Mon - 25 Feb 2019 - 10:02 PM

written by : Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg Writer Archive -

It is now way past the 21-day deadline for the Houthi redeployment from Hodeidah that was stipulated in the Stockholm agreement mediated by the UN in Sweden last December. The cease-fire is also violated by the rebels on a daily basis; the coalition backing the government has recently reported that more than 1,100 violations had been committed by the Houthi militias since the agreement came into force on Dec. 18.

The Houthis have managed to stall the implementation of the Stockholm agreement with endless maneuvers. They cried foul when Patrick Cammaert, the Dutch general who led the UN force that was to oversee their redeployment, insisted on a timely and genuine redeployment of the Houthis from Hodeidah as agreed. They insisted that he be removed, just a month after he started, and the UN obliged. His replacement, Danish general Michael Lollesgaard, has also so far failed to get the Houthis to redeploy from Hodeidah.

The Houthis have learned that their shenanigans actually work. In 2017, when the previous UN mediator, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, pressed them on Hodeidah, they asked for him to be replaced. When that failed, they tried to assassinate him as he left Sanaa airport. He miraculously escaped death thanks to a strongly built armored car with bulletproof glass. The UN finally relented and replaced him.

In December 2017, the Houthis brutally murdered their ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and killed many of his supporters. They had reached a nadir in their international standing, as well as within Yemen. But the UN again came to the rescue and rehabilitated the Houthis’ image. The organization bent over backwards to save Houthi forces in Hodeidah in the hope of getting a peace deal. Those hopes evaporated as the group postured and stonewalled.

On Feb. 14, British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt sounded optimistic after a meeting in Warsaw between the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the UK and US (the so-called “Yemen Quad”). Hunt said: “The basic situation is that it’s possible that Hodeidah could finally be cleared of Houthi troops in the next few days, and that will be an important step forward in the implementation of the Stockholm agreement.” But Hunt then warned: “However, if it that doesn’t happen, there is real frustration and impatience that it is taking so long. So this is really a crunch moment in the Yemen process.”

The Houthis protested loudly against Hunt’s mild commentary because they object to the idea of clearing their forces from Hodeidah. The UN smoothed the Houthis’ ruffled feathers and announced another “breakthrough” in the implementation of the Stockholm agreement; not about Hodeidah mind you, but about other ports nearby. That breakthrough has also yet to materialize.

Many Yemenis, aid workers and others have spoken out recently against this one-sided approach, if not outright appeasement, of the Houthis by some UN officials, who are usually quick to criticize the Yemeni government and the coalition.

Abdulkader Alguneid, a pediatrician and university professor from Taiz, has been scathing in his critiques of the UN. In a recent social media post entitled, “The UN, the West, Hodeidah and the new meddling in Yemen,” he said that the UN special envoy had ignored the plight of Taiz — where hundreds of thousands of people have been suffering under Houthi siege and daily bombardment for nearly four years — while working hard to save the Houthis every time Yemen’s national army and its allies began to close in on Hodeidah. Alguneid, who endured 300 days of detention and torture at the hands of the Houthis, wrote that the UN has unwittingly protected their access to supplies of Iranian weapons, fuel and money. The UN’s actions were undertaken in the name of safeguarding the passage of humanitarian aid and food imports, despite the fact that it has done very little to protect UN food storage facilities in Hodeidah, where the Houthis have for months blocked access to badly needed food supplies.

Fatima Alasrar, a Yemeni architect and political analyst based in the US, recently lamented the UN’s lack of interest in reining in the Houthis’ excesses. She mentioned, as a case in point, the Houthis’ ruthless suppression of tribes in areas under their control. Commenting on recent reported “breakthroughs” in the implementation of the Stockholm deal, she said: “In reality, the deal is staggering: No movement on the humanitarian corridor, continued ‘skirmishes,’ Houthi landmines not removed. So much focus on process and not implementation.”

Humanitarian workers operating in areas under Houthi control have warned that they were being increasingly targeted by militiamen and feared for their lives. Aid workers last week told Foreign Policy magazine that they believed the rebels were “testing the international community to see how much harassment and intimidation they can get away with.”

The Houthis have long used Yemen’s humanitarian crisis to line their pockets, solidify their control over a largely starved population, and embarrass the internationally recognized government and its allies. They have frequently prevented UN access to its own food stores because they want to control the delivery of that aid, to sell it on the black market or use it as a means for rewarding their allies and followers, while punishing populations they suspect of disloyalty. Amnesty International also believes that the Houthis may be looking to use aid workers as hostages and potentially exchange them for prisoners or for political concessions.

Yemeni critics and others have warned that the UN should take a more assertive approach toward the Houthi rebels and call them out when they misbehave, as they are now by delaying the implementation of the Stockholm agreement, manipulating or blocking aid, and brutally suppressing their opponents.

Without a firm stand by the UN, the Houthis will continue to test the will of the international community and succeed.

Published by the Saudi-based Arab News newspaper on Monday, 25 February 2019