Focus

‘Time for dialogue’ UK ambassador to Yemen

* By Edmund Fitton-Brown, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Yemen

Last week UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed handed over his roadmap for peace to the warring parties in Yemen. It is a product of months of negotiations between the Yemeni parties that have taken place under the eye of the UN during the past year. It is designed to reflect the concerns and aspirations of both sides and facilitate a lasting solution to a conflict which has raged for more than two years since the Houthis and forces loyal to former President Saleh took Sanaa by force from the legitimate authorities.

Of course, this roadmap is not intended to be a final version of the agreement. It is a tool designed to bridge the gap between the parties. Both sides will need to engage constructively with the UN Envoy to negotiate the details and reach a settlement. No conflict is resolved easily, and all parties will need to make some difficult compromises.

But they must do so for the sake of all Yemenis. The UN estimates that the conflict has resulted in up to 10,000 Yemeni deaths. There are over 21 million in need of humanitarian assistance with 7 million facing severe food shortages. Differences must be put aside to end this horror and guarantee a better future for the people of Yemen.
The roadmap is based on the UN Security Council Resolution 2216, the internationally agreed framework for a negotiated solution. The Resolution was never intended to relieve the Hadi government of its responsibility to negotiate, or to provide for the surrender of one side to the other.

The terms of the roadmap would see the Houthi militia and Saleh loyalists withdraw from areas they have occupied, including the capital Sana’a and the cities of Taiz and Hodeidah. They would also be required to hand over their heavy weaponry.

In return, a new Vice-President enjoying extensive national acceptability and credibility will be appointed who assumes full Presidential authority and oversees the formation of a new Government of National Unity. And it will be this Government which takes forward the political transition envisaged for Yemen back in 2012, leading to democratic elections and a new Constitution chosen by the Yemeni people. But this political transition can only occur if the Houthi militia and Saleh loyalists commit to the security measures mentioned above and show a willingness to negotiate credible and verifiable withdrawal and disarmament measures as part of an agreement. Efforts to impose a government at the barrel of a gun will lead to endless conflict.

The UN Envoy and his roadmap have the full support of the international community. In one of his first acts, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson brought together US, Saudi Arabia and Emirati Foreign Ministers in London to discuss how best to support the UN process and progress peace. Four Quad meetings have been convened in as many months, alongside regular dialogue with partners in the region, including the Yemeni parties. The UN Security Council and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council agree that this is the best chance of peace for Yemen and have pledged to give their full support to the UN Envoy in delivering it. But the real decision is in the hands of the Yemeni parties to the conflict. I urge the Houthis, the Saleh loyalists and the Government of Yemen to put every effort into working with the UN Envoy and agree a lasting peace deal. The people of Yemen deserve this.

The long list of demands put forward by the Houthi militia and Saleh loyalists, on top of the concessions already offered to them in the roadmap, are completely unacceptable. Let us be clear. This is not constructive engagement with the Special Envoy. This is an attempt to derail the UN process and to humiliate anyone who has opposed them. Those who block peace and recklessly prolong this conflict will be held fully responsible by the international community and the Yemeni people. The time for fighting is over. Now is the time for dialogue, negotiation and compromise.

* Edmund Fitton-Brown is the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Yemen. While operations at the British Embassy in Sana’a remain suspended, Fitton-Brown has been based in Saudi Arabia. He has had previous postings in Riyadh, Cairo, Kuwait, Rome and Helsinki. He can be found on Twitter @EFittonBrown

 

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