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Sana Uqba

Yemen in Focus: Tensions rise between the UN and President Hadi

Hadi has been exiled in Saudi Arabia since the conflict erupted [Getty]

Date of publication: 31 May, 2019

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This week we look at rising tensions between the Yemeni government and the United Nations, the southern separatist accusations against the UAE and more coalition strikes.
Tensions between the internationally-recognised government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and the United Nations surfaced this week after Yemen's president accused the agency of bias toward the Houthi rebels.

In the letter addressed to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Yemens President Hadi accused Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy to Yemen, of undermining chances for peace, threatening to stop dealing with the envoy should there be no improvement.

"I can no longer tolerate the violations committed by the special envoy, which threaten prospects for a solution," read the five-page letter, a copy of which was released to reporters on Thursday.

Hadi accused envoy Griffiths of "providing the Houthi militia with guarantees to stay in Hodeida and its ports under the umbrella of the UN" and said the UN envoy's "poor understanding" of the Yemeni conflict makes him unfit for his post.

The president accused Griffiths of treating the "rebels as a de-facto government and as an equal to the legitimate and elected government" of Yemen.

The UN chief responded by assuring Yemen's leader that the world body will remain impartial in efforts to resolve the country's conflict, rejecting accusations that its envoy was siding with rebels.

The pledge came in a letter from Guterres addressed to the president, who has been in exile since the conflict erupted.

"I would like to assure you that every effort will be made to maintain the impartial stance that is expected of the United Nations," while implementing a ceasefire agreement, Guterres said in the letter seen by AFP on Sunday.

Hadi accused envoy Griffiths of providing the Houthi militia with guarantees to stay in Hodeida and its ports under the umbrella of the UN and said the UN envoy's 'poor understanding' of the Yemeni conflict makes him unfit for his post

Earlier this month the United Nations supervised the rebels' handing over of the ports of Hodeida, Saleef and Ras Issa to a "coast guard", but the government said they were in fact Houthi forces in different uniforms.

While briefing the UN Security Council on the situation in Yemen last week, Griffiths urged the warring sides to maintain the momentum of the Houthi withdrawal from Hodeida  the country's lifeline to foreign aid  and to work urgently on a political solution to the devastating conflict.

There were "signs of hope" but "also alarming signs" that could threaten progress, Griffiths said, a reference to continuing clashes in the southern Dhale province.

Later on Friday, Houthi rebel leader Mohamed Ali al-Houthi tweeted that Hadi's letter to the UN chief was a "miserable attempt to curtail peace."

The Hodeida pullback is in line with a ceasefire deal for Hodeida reached in Stockholm in December.

Read more: Yemen in Focus: Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia aggravate Gulf tensions

Guterres said that he and Griffiths were prepared "to discuss the legitimate concerns of the government of Yemen referenced in your letter, which we take very seriously."

'Spurned peace efforts'

Meanwhile, the de-facto ruling Houthi rebels in Sanaa had, as usual, plenty to say this week.

A leading figure in Yemen's Houthi movement justified recent cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia as a response to the kingdom's rejection of "peace initiatives".

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the president of the rebel's Supreme Revolutionary Committee, also rejected claims that the recent attacks have been carried out on Iran's orders, according to Saudi and US accusations.

"We are independent in our decisions and... we are not subordinated to anyone," al-Houthi told Reuters by phone.

The remarks came after the rebels confirmed a fourth attack on Saudi Arabia, most recently targeting hangers containing Saudi war planes in the southwest of the kingdom.

The airport has been the target of several attacks this week, with an armed drone hitting a weapons depot at the base on Tuesday according to Al-Masirah.

Middle East drone wars heat up in Yemen
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Saudi Arabia confirmed there had been an attack that day but said the drone had targeted "civilian infrastructure" without mentioning any casualties.

Earlier, the rebels also struck Saudi Arabia's main oil pipeline near Riyadh, prompting Saudi authorities to temporarily shut down the station.

Al-Houthi told Reuters the rebels had initially agreed to halt raids last year "in good faith" and had been ready to take more steps.

"But unfortunately the aggressor countries misinterpreted these efforts (as weakness) and regarded them with contempt and indifference," al-Houthi added.

He pointed toward the rebels supposed withdrawal from Hodeida which he said was a gesture that was not reciprocated by the Saudi-led coalition. 

'Emirati occupation'

From one de-facto government to another, the self-appointed southern leadership accused the UAE of occupation due to the Gulf state's military and economic presence in the region.

Ali Mohammed al-Saadi made the criticism in an online statement on Saturday, local media reported.

"The truth is that the UAE is occupying the south. Some say that it has given them tanks, money and formed a southern army. I think that until now there is no southern army and that there are local militias, which are a time bomb that the UAE will blow up when it feels like it is no longer wanted in the south," he added.

The truth is that the UAE is occupying the south. Some say that it has given them tanks, money and formed a southern army

"Whoever thinks the UAE's generosity comes is no-string-attached lives in another world. Tomorrow they will wake up and realise too late that things have gone past the point of no return."

The UAE is one of the leading countries fighting on behalf of Yemen's internationally-recognised government against the Houthi rebels.

But relations are tense between the UAE, which is pursuing its own agenda in war-torn Yemen, and the government of President Hadi.

Read more: Why is UAE 'occupying' Yemen's Socotra island?

The UAE has recruited thousands of fighters from the separatist southern movement who have clashed with government troops on several occasions over the period of the conflict.

In January 2018, southern separatists took control of the city of Aden, where Hadi's government had fled following the 2015 Houthi takeover of Sanaa.

The separatists say they have more than 50,000 fighters armed and trained by the UAE and aim to restore the independent state of Southern Yemen, which united with the north in 1990.

But concerns have been raised surrounding the UAE's intentions in the south, where it has built a solid link of alliances and established control over major cities, especially Aden  the temporary capital.

The Emiratis boast several bases in the coastal city where the country's forces operate all military activity, including training local men-turned-soldiers.

Earlier this month, the Yemeni government accused the UAE of landing around a hundred southern separatists on the island of Socotra.

Saudi-led coalition strikes

As is always the case, the Saudi-led coalition did little to help its case in Yemen this week.

Twenty-seven people were killed in overnight airstrikes east of Yemen's third city of Taiz, a medic and rebel forces said on Saturday, including seven children.

The victims  aged between 4 and 14 – "were killed on Friday in an attack on the Mawiyah district", UNICEF added.

"This attack brings to 27 the number of children killed and injured in a recent escalation of violence near Sanaa and in Taiz over the past 10 days," UNICEF said, warning the toll could be higher.

The city of Taiz is under siege by the Houthi rebels but controlled by pro-government forces, who are supported by the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The strikes are believed to be a response to the increased cross-border Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia.

The Yemen conflict exacerbated after a Saudi-led coalition intervened in March 2015 to reinstate the Hadi government after the rebels overran the capital and other major cities.

The conflict, which forced Hadi to relocate to Saudi Arabia, has killed tens of thousands people, many of them civilians, relief agencies say. 

The fighting has triggered what the United Nations describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with 24.1 million – more than two-thirds of the population – in need of aid.

More news from Yemen, same time, same place – next week.

Sana Uqba is a journalist at The New Arab. 

Follow her on Twitter: @Sanasiino 

Yemen In Focus is a new, regular feature from The New Arab.

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