The UN’s special envoy for Yemen remains optimistic that the nation’s government and the Houthis can reach a peaceful resolution that will end more than eight years of civil war in the country, despite the ongoing lack of trust between the two sides.
Speaking on Tuesday during an interview with Cairo-based Yemen Today, Hans Grundberg said his office is working to persuade both sides to resume talks designed to resolve points of contention and reach a comprehensive peace agreement.
He said he has a “firm belief that Yemenis can resolve the conflict peacefully, and I also believe that peace can be just.”
He added: “My Office and I have been working with Yemenis in order to push for one aim, and that is a resumption of a political process that can lead to a sustainable settlement of the conflict.”
The Houthis seized power in Yemen by force nine years ago, placed the internationally recognized president of the country under house arrest, and began expanding their control across the country. Their actions sparked a civil war that has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people, according to UN figures.
In early 2015, Saudi forces were part of a military coalition that intervened in the conflict in support of the Yemeni government, which tipped the balance of the conflict and halted the rapid Houthi military advances, though it did not end the war or the Houthi siege of the city of Taiz.
Grundberg said a UN-brokered truce initially agreed in April last year resulted in the longest period of relative calm on battlefields since the war began. It also paved the way for efforts to resolve key issues, led to the opening of entry points to the country, and prompted Yemeni factions to engage in unprecedented levels of discussions, he added.
“The aim, and the real challenge that I and my office and all Yemenis face right now, is to ensure that we take the necessary steps going from the current situation, from a truce, toward real steps, toward a political settlement and also implementation of a nationwide ceasefire,” Grundberg said.
The peace efforts suffered a setback in October last year when the Houthis refused to renew the truce agreement and resumed drone and missile attacks on oil infrastructure in government-controlled Hadramout and Shabwa provinces.
Years of fighting, Grundberg said, have engendered a profound lack of trust among the Yemeni factions and this has hindered peace talks.
“I think the first thing to realize is that the level of trust following eight years of war remains a scarce resource in Yemen,” he said. “You cannot suddenly see a level of trust reappear magically following the conflict that we have seen.”
He added that he continues to attempt to persuade all parties involved in the conflict to commit to establishing an enduring nationwide truce, to enforce the previous UN-brokered truce, to engage in talks on economic matters, and to return to the political process.
In response to criticism from some quarters that he has failed to call out the Houthis for ignoring calls to engage with peace efforts, Grundberg said that as a mediator it is not his place to hold any group in Yemen responsible for delays in renewing the truce agreement or rejecting peace proposals.
“If I start pointing out who is to blame for every single step that we take in that direction, I will fail in my mission because that will then put me in an impossible situation,” he added.
He applauded Saudi authorities for their exchanges with Houthi representatives, including the Saudi ambassador to Yemen’s visit to Houthi-controlled Sanaa in April, and said that mediation efforts by Saudi Arabia and Oman aim to help achieve the shared objective of bringing all Yemenis to the negotiating table.
“All of these are other entry points that all aim toward the same goal, and that is to allow Yemenis to enter into serious negotiations with one another under the United Nations’ auspices to reach a long-term and sustainable settlement of the conflict,” Grundberg said.
He also welcomed the recent resumption of diplomatic relations between Iran, who back the Houthis, and Saudi Arabia as beneficial to the peace process, but added that only Yemeni-to-Yemeni talks can result in a lasting agreement that resolves the conflict.
“The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran can be of support to Yemen,” he said. “The fact that they do talk to each other can be of support to Yemen but it cannot be the solution.”