Yemen peace plan sees cease-fire, Houthis abandoning missiles

The draft plans says no armed groups shall be exempt from disarmament. (AFP)
Updated 08 June 2018
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Yemen peace plan sees cease-fire, Houthis abandoning missiles

  • The plan, which has not been made public and could be modified, is the latest effort to end Yemen’s three-year-old civil war
  • Reuters sources confirmed that the language included the Houthis, who have launched ballistic missiles at neighboring Saudi Arabia

WASHINGTON: A UN peace plan for Yemen calls on the Houthi movement to give up its ballistic missiles in return for an end to a bombing campaign against it by a Saudi-led coalition and a transitional governance agreement, according to a draft of the document and sources.

The plan, which has not been made public and could be modified, is the latest effort to end Yemen’s three-year-old civil war, which has spawned one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

The conflict pits the Iran-aligned Houthis, who took control of the capital Sanaa in 2014, against other Yemeni forces backed by a coalition loyal to exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and led by US allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The coalition fears the Houthis are part of a regional power grab by Tehran.

Previous efforts to end the conflict, which according to the UN has killed more than 10,000 people, have failed. It is unclear whether the new plan will fare any better given the divergent interests of fighters on the ground and international backers.

A draft document seen by Reuters and confirmed by two sources familiar with it says that as a step toward new security arrangements, “heavy and medium weapons including ballistic missiles shall be handed over by non-state military actors in an orderly and planned fashion.”

“No armed groups shall be exempt from disarmament,” it says.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the language included the Houthis, who have launched ballistic missiles at neighboring Saudi Arabia.

The document also cites plans to create a transitional government, in which “political components shall be adequately represented,” in an apparent nod to the Houthis, who would be unlikely to cede Sanaa without participation in a future government.

“The intention is to link security and political aspects starting with a cessation of fighting...then to move toward a withdrawal of forces and the formation of a national unity government. This last objective could possibly be the hardest,” one of the sources said.

The peace plan was drafted by special UN envoy Martin Griffiths, who is due to present a “framework for negotiations” in Yemen by mid-June.

Cautious welcome

A Houthi official cautiously welcomed the UN efforts, describing a cease-fire as the first building block in the political process.

“Our optimism will be determined by how serious and respectful the other parties are of the UN role,” the official told Reuters, noting that previous truces had failed.

Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, signaled Abu Dhabi’s desire to support Griffith’s efforts.

“Politically, there is a necessity to back the UN effort. It will ultimately mean a transition, to a new political order in Yemen. Clearly with the UN effort, the military and political process will see the Houthis pull out of urban centers,” he told UAE English-language newspaper The National.

UAE-backed Yemeni forces and the Houthis are in a standoff over the Houthi-controlled Red Sea port of Hodeidah.

The Emirati-backed Yemeni forces have moved to within 10 km of the port, a lifeline for humanitarian supplies, and Griffiths is in the Middle East working on a separate deal to stave off an assault on it.

The wider peace plan appears designed to win a quick cease-fire while leaving many thorny issues for later negotiation.

Issues such as constitutional and electoral processes, and reconciliation among the sides would be dealt with later as part of a transition agenda, it says.

The draft document calls for establishing an inclusive transition government, led by an agreed-upon prime minister, “in which political components shall be adequately represented.”

The plan offers no further detail on how much representation the Houthis might receive in such a transition government.

A national military council would oversee steps for “phased withdrawal of armed groups from specific areas” and the handover of weapons, including ballistic missiles.

UN-backed peace talks between the Houthis and the Yemeni government were last held in Kuwait in August 2016.


Expanding ‘dead zone’ in Arabian Sea raises climate change fears

Updated 35 min 20 sec ago
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Expanding ‘dead zone’ in Arabian Sea raises climate change fears

  • Dead zones are areas of the sea where the lack of oxygen makes it difficult for fish to survive
  • The findings of the 2015 to 2016 study were released in April and showed the Arabian Sea dead zone had worsened in size and scope

ABU DHABI: In the waters of the Arabian Sea, a vast “dead zone” the size of Scotland is expanding and scientists say climate change may be to blame.
In his lab in Abu Dhabi, Zouhair Lachkar is laboring over a colorful computer model of the Gulf of Oman, showing changing temperatures, sea levels and oxygen concentrations.
His models and new research unveiled earlier this year show a worrying trend.
Dead zones are areas of the sea where the lack of oxygen makes it difficult for fish to survive and the one in the Arabian Sea is “is the most intense in the world,” says Lachkar, a senior scientist at NYU Abu Dhabi in the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
“It starts at about 100 meters and goes down to 1,500 meters, so almost the whole water column is completely depleted of oxygen,” he told AFP.
Dead zones are naturally occurring phenomena around the world, but this one appears to have mushroomed since it was last surveyed in the 1990s.
Lachkar and other researchers are worried that global warming is causing the zone to expand, raising concerns for local ecosystems and industries including fishing and tourism.
The discovery was made possible by the use of robotic divers, or “sea gliders,” deployed in areas researchers could not access — an undertaking by Britain’s University of East Anglia in collaboration with Oman’s Sultan Qaboos University.
The findings of the 2015 to 2016 study were released in April and showed the Arabian Sea dead zone had worsened in size and scope.
And unlike in the 1996 measurements, when the lowest levels were limited to the heart of the dead zone — midway between Yemen and India — now the dead zone extends across the sea.
“Now everywhere is the minimum, and it can’t go much lower,” the lead researcher Bastien Queste told AFP.
At NYU Abu Dhabi, Lachkar explains the Arabian Sea dead zone appears to be stuck in a cycle where warming seas are depleting the oxygen supply which in turn is reinforcing the warming.
This, he says, “can be very scary for climate.”
Ports from Mumbai to Muscat look out onto the Arabian Sea, making it a critical body of water.
These coastal hubs and the populations beyond them will be affected by further expansion of the dead zone.
Fish, a key source of sustenance in the region, may find their habitats compressed from deep underwater to just beneath the surface, putting them at risk of overfishing and extreme competition.
“When oxygen concentration drops below certain levels, fish cannot survive and you have massive death,” says Lachkar.
To carry out his data-heavy modelling, Lachkar relies on a sprawling supercomputer center which cost several million dollars to set up — a testament to local priorities to research climate change.
The UAE in 2016 renamed its Ministry of Environment and Water as the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, further evidence of the regional desire to meet this global challenge head-on.
“I think it is an important topic for different reasons, not only scientific reasons, but also economic,” says Lachkar from his Center for Prototype and Climate Modelling.
“Fishing is an important source of revenue and it’s directly impacted by the oxygen,” he said.
Even coral reefs and, by extension, tourism could be affected.
Down the hall from his research facility is the complementary Center for Global Sea Level Change, where researchers like Diana Francis study the worldwide impact of the problem.
The issue was at the top of the global agenda in 2015, when the world hammered out a deal in Paris to cut carbon emissions.
But the landmark agreement received a blow last year, when President Donald Trump announced he would be pulling the United States out of the accord.
“It is very disappointing, because a major country is not putting effort in the same direction as the others,” says Francis of the decision.
“But our role is to stick to science, be pragmatic and try to advance our understanding of the climate,” she says.
“Politics change over time,” Francis tells AFP. “But science does not.”