Shabwa at the Riyadh Agreement's Table: Peace and Obstructors


Wed, 30-06-2021 04:28 PM, Aden

Badr Mohammed (South24)

Lately, the conflict on the outskirts of Marib appears to be more violent and bloodier. Simultaneously, the international community is increasingly concerned about the "hostile" behavior by the Houthis and their continued attack on the last stronghold of the internationally recognized government in North Yemen(1). The Houthis have not responded to the peace and ceasefire initiatives, while the international community is pressing hard to end the conflict and commit all actors in the Yemeni crisis into a comprehensive political settlement.

In return, the international community urges the Yemeni government and the STC to complete the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement (2). This requires implementing the military part of the Riyadh Agreement through a matrix of measures, the most important of which is to allow the Shabwani Elite Forces to return to Shabwa and to withdraw pro-Yemeni government forces to Marib. However, recent indicators from Shabwa governorate put the observer in front of a picture similar to what is happening in the Marib governorate. The scene of the peace that Marib demands in return for the war waged by the Houthis against it is repeated.

Shabwa: the Peace and War Equation

Last Friday and Saturday, Nisab district, Shabwa witnessed military movements of the pro-government forces, controlled by the Yemeni Islah party, with the aim of preventing the people of the governorate from holding a peaceful demonstration in Abadan area, which the STC called for earlier. Military personnel and vehicles from the Special Forces and Ataq axis were deployed. They set up security barriers at the entrances to the Nisab district and roads leading to it. However, the security barrier did not succeed in preventing the demonstrators from reaching the event's location, after the demonstrators took rugged mountain roads while waving the flags of the former state of South Yemen.

This force did not hesitate to use heavy weapons such as artillery and tanks, according to the STC's spokesperson. Hills near Abadan area were bombed by artillery shells on Friday evening, then stormed the event square at dawn on Saturday and destroyed the area, according to a local source who spoke to "South24" earlier.

STC commands were firm in not engaging with these forces. The leadership of the STC there stressed the peacefulness of the event, and the necessity of achieving the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement. The move to relocate the demonstration, which was attended by thousands of people in Saqam, reflected the STC's insistence on the option of peace, in contrast to the insistence of the local Islah affiliated authority in Shabwa on the military escalation.

This escalation, according to observers, increases the motivation of the Shabwani community to demand the return of the Shabwani Elite Forces that were forced to withdraw from Shabwa in the August 2019 battle in front of the Northern forces that came from Marib and Al-Jawf and are still present in Shabwa.

The Return of the Shabwani Elite Forces

Indications of the situation in Shabwa are that the popular demand for the return of the Elite Forces to the province is expanding, with the STC intending there to expand its peaceful demonstrations to several areas, including the capital city, Ataq, in the coming days. Especially since this coincided with "communication" suspension by the STC negotiation delegation with parties of the Riyadh Agreement, so that Shabwa's agenda is put on the table of priorities for implementing the agreement, in objection against the “repression” and arrests that escalated recently in Shabwa against its leaders and activists.

It is important to note that the Shabwa events revealed another behavior of the Yemeni government represented by the local authority in Shabwa, which is not consistent with their behavior against the Houthis in North where they committed the peace option. This contradiction can be explained as an escape from the step of implementing the military part of the Riyadh Agreement and the withdrawal of the Northern forces from Shabwa to Marib to confront the Houthis. This, in turn, makes the return of the Shabwani Elite Forces to Shabwa a priority.

In this regard, the Head of the negotiation unit in the STC, Dr. Nasser Al-Khubaji, stressed during his meeting last Sunday with the European Union Ambassador to Yemen (3), that the process of implementing the Riyadh Agreement requires starting to address the security file in Shabwa and the return of the Shabwani Elite Forces to secure it.

So, just as the Houthis' supposed acceptance of the peace initiative means stopping military operations on Marib, the commitment of the Yemeni government and the STC to implement the Riyadh Agreement means implementing the military aspect, which in turn means the return of the Shabwani Elite Forces to Shabwa. This is the only approach capable of resolving the Yemeni crisis politically. The international community notes the excessive force used by the Houthis towards Marib, and the excessive force used by the Yemeni government in Shabwa. And if there is a military solution to the Yemeni crisis, it is to confront the two military forces with each other in Marib, instead of each going in another direction, which will further complicate the Yemeni crisis and the humanitarian crisis.

But so far, it seems that the "enough braveness" that Martin Griffiths requested, before the end of his term, for a ceasefire and the establishment of peace in Yemen, isn't in the Houthis and government authorities run by "Islah" in Shabwa. Therefore, the international community’s demand for the Houthis to ceasefire, along with the Yemeni government and the STC's demand to implement the Riyadh Agreement, aims to test the parties to the conflict with the option of peace and a political solution, which ultimately leads to ending the Yemeni crisis.

The nature of handling the crisis by the internationally recognized government and the Yemeni presidency still does not reflect a sense of responsibility, despite its repeated affirmation of extending its hand for peace. But the escalation it is pursuing in South, as well as the state of weakness it is experiencing in the various “legitimacy” institutions, which is reflected in their economic and humanitarian performance, prompted the US envoy to Yemen, during a panel discussion organized by the National Council for American-Arab Relations, to acknowledge Washington’s recognition of the Houthis as a legitimate actor in Yemen, or at least from a humanitarian angle.

At the last meeting of the Security Council regarding the Yemeni crisis, the US ambassador, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, said that "Houthi intransigence is not the only impediment to lasting peace in Yemen," and then directly referred to the need to implement the Riyadh Agreement (4). Therefore, the recent military and security events of the government forces in Shabwa governorate and the areas under its control in South Yemen, as well as the failure of the government to return to Aden to perform its services and administrative roles, would clearly reveal to the international observer the extent to which the internationally recognized “legitimacy” system is obstructed for peace efforts and an end to the war in Yemen.

Badr Mohammed
Researcher on Yemeni political affairs at South24 Center

- Photo: Southern Armed Forces Soldier (AFP/Nabil al-Quaety)