Difficult mission to restore peace and stability in Middle East

Wednesday, 2019-02-20 15:23:45
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The fragile truce deal marks the first step toward ending the devastating war in Yemen. (Photo: EPA)
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NDO – The United Nations has recently promoted shuttle diplomatic efforts to remove bottlenecks in crises and conflicts in the Middle East. Positive signals have been transmitted from Yemen and Libya, however, the path to peace and stability in these countries is still arduous.

After UN reconciliation efforts, the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels agreed on the first withdrawal of troops from the strategic port city of Hodeidah on the Red Sea coast. Under the UN mediated ceasefire agreement signed in December 2018 in Sweden, the withdrawal should have been carried out within two weeks after the ceasefire took effect, but the deadline was missed. However, this fragile ceasefire agreement marks the first step towards ending the bloody war which has lasted nearly four years, leading to more than 10,000 deaths and pushing the country on the Arabian Peninsula into the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

Declaring the first phase withdrawal was a result of the fourth round of talks recently held at Hodeidah between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels. The UN also brokered a series of separate talks on the exchange of thousands of prisoners, considering it an important confidence-building measure in the peace talks in Yemen.

The end of the conflict in Hodeidah is a vital issue for the Yemeni peace process because the seaport is considered a gateway for the importation of goods and relief supplies into Yemen. The UN hopes to reduce the conflict in Hodeidah which would allow aid for food and medicine to reach millions of people in poverty. UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths and UN Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock have warned that food supplies for millions of Yemenis that are now stored in a large Red Sea warehouse are in danger of being damaged, as UN relief workers still cannot access the area to transport food out due to the dangerous local situation.

The UN delegation in Yemen expressed optimism about the negotiation progress. However, it is not easy to realise the agreement as committed. In fact, both Houthi rebels and government troops backed by Saudi Arabia's military alliance have repeatedly accused each other of violating the ceasefire agreement and said that there are many loopholes in the deal. In response to this situation, the UN Security Council passed a resolution to increase the number of observers to assess the situation more accurately. The council also established a committee to oversee the ceasefire between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels.

Meanwhile, the prolonged crisis in Libya has not found a way out, although mediators of the UN reconciliation have endeavoured to support the Government of National Accord (GNA) in the North African country. The commitment from key political leaders in Libya to follow the UN-mediated political process, including holding a national conference and conducting parliamentary and presidential elections in mid-2019, is considered a step forward in an intermediary effort to end the political deadlock in Libya.

However, the existence of two governments with separate armed forces, including internationally recognised GNA in Tripoli and a government led by general Khalifa Haftar, which operates in the eastern part of the country, still makes the current security situation in Libya more complicated. Violence and conflict are rampant while prices of fuel and necessities escalate. The economic crisis makes relations between GNA and the eastern-based government increasingly tense and conflicts continue to occur between the two sides. The Libyan border areas with some neighbouring countries have now turned into rebel sanctuaries, becoming a security threat to the region.

The exit for the crisis in the Middle East - North Africa is partly opened, thanks to the efforts from the UN. However, for the time being, there are still difficulties and challenges for stakeholders to fulfill their commitments and the UN has too much to do in the quest for peace in the region which has always been a hotspot for conflicts.