Is it Yemen’s turn to slip into chaos?
On July 8, Houthi forces ran over the city after weeks of siege and took over government institutions as well as military camps, including the 310 Armored Brigade. The brigade commander, Hamid Al-Qushaibi, 73, was captured and reportedly executed soon afterwards.
Over 200 people were killed during the last five days of fighting before the fall of the city, mostly civilians including women and children, according to the UN Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Yemen. It also reported that the fighting in Amran district has resulted in a breakdown in the delivery systems of humanitarian assistance, overwhelmed by over 500,000 people affected by conflict in Amran Governorate, 85,000 of whom in Amran city itself.
The capture of Amran, located just 50 kilometers northwest of the capital Sanaa, was a significant breach of previous agreements reached between the government and the Houthis at the National Dialogue Conference, not to resort to violence to derail Yemen’s progress towards stability.
Some fear that the Houthis’ target is Sanaa. While that seems to be a remote possibility, their control of the region surrounding the capital, including the international airport, gives them significantly added influence on the security and political calculus in Yemen, an influence already felt on the reluctance to use force to stop their march.
On July 11, the United Nations Security Council issued a statement expressing “grave concern about the serious deterioration of the security situation in Yemen in the light of the ongoing violence in Amran.”
In an important development, the UNSC then “demanded that the Houthis, all armed groups and parties involved in the violence withdraw and relinquish control of Amran and hand over weapons and ammunition pillaged in Amran to the national authorities loyal to the government.” It also demanded that all armed groups “disarm,” a far-fetched possibility of course. In part, the Houthis were able to win Amran and previous battles by taking advantage of factional loyalties within Yemeni armed forces. Despite bold steps by the transitional government to restructure the Yemeni military, it is believed that not all units share the same degree of loyalty to the central government. It was with that problem in mind that the UNSC “asked military units to remain committed to their obligation of neutrality at the service of the state.”
A greater problem involves what the UNSC called “spoilers” who “continue to stoke the conflict in the north in an attempt to obstruct the political transition.”
You may recall that the UNSC tried last February to deal with those spoilers. It adopted a strong and far-reaching resolution (2140), under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which introduced targeted sanctions against “individuals or entities engaging in or providing support for acts that threaten the peace, security or stability in Yemen.”
UNSC 2140 established a committee and a panel of experts to follow up the implementation of the resolution, especially with regards to the sanctions against spoilers.
However, the UNSC statement last Friday indicated that its efforts have failed to stop those spoilers from trying to impose their will on the rest of the country by force. To deal with that failure, the UNSC statement “urged the Panel of Experts as they discharge their duties in accordance with the resolution to look into these spoilers as a matter of urgency and to present expeditiously relevant recommendations to the Committee established pursuant to the resolution 2140 (2014).”
For most Yemenis, the failure of the international community in Yemen is incomprehensible. Compared to other regional conflicts, Yemen’s appears to be the easiest to resolve. Unlike in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, or even Libya, there is a considerable degree of national, regional and international consensus on what needs to be done in Yemen. Within Yemen, the National Dialogue Conference, which lasted 10 months, reached a wide-ranging consensus on all the major issues in preparing for the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections. The Houthis were part of that consensus.
Regionally, the GCC Initiative and its implementation mechanisms represented the regional consensus on helping restore peace, stability and security in Yemen. Internationally, several UNSC resolutions were adopted to help implement the GCC Initiative, representing a solid international consensus on the road to peace and security. As I noted above, the UNSC adopted measures under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, to give it flexibility to use force if necessary to enforce that consensus.
The international community also worked with Yemen to put together a transitional economic plan for the (2012-2014) period, to give the government the necessary tools to shore up its finances and restore economic activity. Two international donor conferences were organized in Riyadh and New York in September 2012 to mobilize international financial resources to help fund that plan. Nearly $8 billion were pledged during those two conferences, mostly from GCC countries. In addition, emergency assistance, estimated at billions of dollars more, has been provided to Yemen.
On the security front, several countries have worked with the government to help restore its control of all its territory.
Hence the pivotal question many Yemenis and others ask: With such national, regional and international consensus, with all the help and good will of regional and international powers, how could a small band of fighters take over Amran and begin to encircle the capital of Yemen and its main international airport? Who are the “spoilers” that the UNSC resolution ominously refers to as a cause for the derailment of all national, regional and international efforts to restore peace and security in Yemen?
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