Yemen crisis wont be solved by UK arms exports halt

LONDON — Nothing in Yemen has been left untouched by war, not even the presidential palace in Aden. When I visited this fortified building a few weeks ago, you could see the pockmarks from bullets and the damage from explosions.

I went to Aden to meet Yemens recognized government and see for myself the realities of a grave humanitarian crisis. At the port, a United Nations official told me how even now, four years on, they were struggling to bring in enough food for millions of desperate people.

On this anniversary of the intervention in Yemens conflict led by Saudi Arabia, the imperative need for a peaceful settlement has never been greater.

Some 24 million Yemenis depend on emergency aid for food and medicine. The total population is less than 30 million, so at least 80 percent of all Yemenis are suffering in this way. No less than 1.8 million children are enduring acute malnutrition.

Behind these stark impersonal numbers are real people — individual mothers, fathers and children. But the blunt truth is that Yemens ordeal is the consequence not of natural disaster but a tragic man-made conflict.

Yemenis gather at the site of a suicide car bombing outside Yemens presidential palace | Saleh Obeidi/AFP via Getty Images

Some argue that Britain has contributed to the crisis because of arms sales to some of the participants. In fact we have some of the strictest arms control export guidelines in the world and I have made the quest for a political solution in Yemen a central priority for British diplomacy. Despite Brexit, my focus on Yemen has not wavered. So at this crucial moment, if we are to progress, I would offer three observations.

First, historical accuracy matters. This war did not begin with a Saudi-led intervention. Six months earlier, in September 2014, Houthi rebels, representing no more than 15 percent of the population, captured most of the capital, Sanaa, and expelled the internationally recognised government. Saudi Arabia and its allies began their operation in March 2015 in order to restore that government, consistent with United Nations Resolution 2216. Before they had launched a single air strike, Yemen was already at war.

Second, there is now a path to peace. The agreement reached in Stockholm in December means that for the first time since 2016, the Houthis and the government of Yemen have held direct peace talks. I went to Stockholm myself to encourage progress. The outcome was a ceasefire in Hodeidah province, including the crucial port through which Yemen receives about 70 percent of its food imports.

This fragile ceasefire has broadly held for the last three months. But the next phase of the Stockholm agreement, providing for a mutual redeployment of forces away from Hodeidah, has not been implemented. Unless that happens, the ceasefire is unlikely to be sustained.

So my immediate priority is to press all sides to implement Stockholm, which is why earlier in March I visited the countries most directly involved in the conflict. I was the first British Cabinet minister to pay an official visit to Aden since Denis Healey in 1965.

A Saudi military member stands next to a damaged building in the area of the presidential palace in the southern city of Aden | Ahmed Farwan/AFP via Getty Images

Which brings me to my final point: Britains history and our values require us to play our part in making a constructive difference in the Middle East — and our unique links in the region mean that we have the ability to do so. Our strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia and the United Read More – Source

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