GP Insights # 331, 11 April 2020
On 9 April, the Saudi Arabia-UAE coalition fighting the Houthi rebels in Yemen declared a two-week unilateral suspension of hostilities. The commencement of the ceasefire was announced by the coalition's spokesperson Colonel Turki al-Malki. Armed rebels allege the move is partly in response to the UN truce calls owing to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Houthis accused the coalition of continuing use of airpower during the ceasefire, refused to observe the ceasefire unless the coalition lifts the years-long siege, and vowed to continue attacks on industrial sites and military installations.
Meanwhile, on 10 April, Yemen confirmed its first coronavirus infection in its southern province of Hadramout and is bracing for an outbreak.
What is the background?
In 2014, ever since the Houthis toppled Yemen's government from power in Sanaa, the country has been mired in conflict. The ongoing Yemen war, widely recognised as a costly and unpopular proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, has killed over 100,000 people, pushed over 15 million people to starvation and famine, forced thousands into displacement camps, led to recurrent outbreaks of deadly diseases such as cholera and caused the worst humanitarian disaster according to the UN. Import restrictions imposed by the Saudi-led coalition and military deadlock has worsened the dire situation. In 2019, UAE withdrew its troops, scaling down their presence in Yemen significantly. Riyadh stepped in to fill the void.
During the first week of April 2020, UN special envoy Martin Griffiths had sent a nationwide ceasefire proposal, calling for halting ground, naval and air fighting, to Yemen's internationally-recognised government, the supporting Saudi-UAE coalition and the Houthis. Presently, the later controls Sanaa and the northern parts of Yemen. Prior to the recent ceasefire, the Houthis had sent a comprehensive plan, detailing foundations for a transitional period and political dialogue, to the UN.
What does it mean?
The suspension of hostilities serves three purposes: first, it prevents the outbreak of the pandemic in Yemen; second, it de-escalates the conflict; and third, it gives Houthis an opportunity to partake in the UN-sponsored negotiation/settlement talks. The pandemic situation is being utilised by the UN and Western allies to bring the armed groups to the negotiation table.
Nevertheless, as the war has devastated the country's healthcare system Yemen's first coronavirus case rings a catastrophic alarm.
Malnutrition and diseases are rampant in Hadramout, a province wherein the coastal towns are controlled by the Saudi-UAE coalition and the remaining by al-Qaeda fighters. It is only a matter of time before a highly proliferous coronavirus outbreak with a spiralling death toll devastates Yemen.