Quoting sources in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and in the UN, the Associated Press (AP) reported on Tuesday, January 17, that the representatives of Yemen’s Ansar Allah (Houthis) government and the Saudi Arabia-backed administration in southern Yemen have started “back-channel talks” in order to formalize the informal ceasefire and achieve lasting peace in the war-torn country.
The report indicates that the talks are being facilitated by Oman as an intermediary, and major issues such as the sharing of oil revenues, lifting of the Saudi-imposed blockade, and security guarantees are being discussed.
The talks were initiated after almost nine months of relative calm in Yemen following the UN-negotiated ceasefire that took effect in April last year. Though the ceasefire officially ended in the beginning of October, Yemen has not seen major fighting since then.
The disagreements between the Houthi administration in Sanaa and the Saudi-backed administration over issues such as the Saudi-led blockade of the country, the Houthi siege of Taiz, and the sharing of oil revenues, were considered major reasons for the failure of ceasefire talks in the past.
Apart from lifting the eight-year-old Saudi-imposed blockade, which prevents the flow of basic commodities such as food and medicine into the country, the Houthis have demanded that the Saudi-backed administration, which controls most of the oil-producing areas, pay the salaries of all public employees. The Houthi government in Sanaa recently claimed that despite a majority of Yemenis living in areas under its control, it only receives 7% of all revenues from the country’s natural resources.
Speaking during his January 16 presentation to the UN Security Council (UNSC), Hans Grundberg, UN special envoy to Yemen, had called on all parties to take advantage of the absence of any “large-scale fighting” to start a dialogue for peace.
Grundberg had noted that apart from “minor fighting” in five provinces—Marib, Taiz, Dalim Hodeidah, and Lahj – along with fighting at the border of Saudi Arabia, most of Yemen has seen a calm unprecedented since the beginning of the war in 2015.
“To actively work to extend the longest period of relative quiet we have seen in the past eight years, which offers a much needed reprieve for the Yemeni population,” Grundberg said, there was an urgent need for intra-Yemeni talks focused not on “individual issues” but on broader issues to achieve a more “comprehensive settlement.”
The war in Yemen began following the Saudi-led international coalition’s armed intervention in 2015, in support of then president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who had fled the capital Sanaa after the Houthi takeover of the city a year before. According to the UN, close to 400,000 Yemenis have been killed and millions have been displaced in the war, and almost the entire population of the country now depends on some kind of aid for survival.