Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Jamal Benomar, assistant UN secretary-general and UN envoy to Yemen, spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat against the backdrop of the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference, whose end is fast approaching.
Benomar appeared optimistic about the national dialogue, saying that it had achieved 90 percent of its mission. The dialogue was extended for an additional two weeks on Wednesday.
The UN envoy to Yemen spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about the Yemeni National Dialogue, the Southern movement’s participation, and the constitutional drafting process.
This interview has been edited for length.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Are you optimistic about the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference concluding with a successful political settlement?
Jamal Benomar: First of all, it is important not to forget that Yemen was on the verge of civil war. The roads were cut off and the capital was divided into three parts, each controlled by a different group. Al-Qaeda occupied an entire region in the south and the army was divided. The situation was very dangerous and could have escalated along the lines of the Syrian scenario. However, a negotiation process took place and agreements were reached regarding the peaceful transfer of power and operational mechanisms based on the Gulf Initiative. This was agreed on in Riyadh in November 2011.
This settlement opened a new chapter in Yemen’s modern history, with the implementation of the terms of this agreement becoming a priority. These terms included forming a government of national reconciliation and holding a comprehensive National Dialogue Conference in order to ensure the participation of all parties in the political process. These include Al-Hirak (the Southern movement), the Houthis [Ansar Allah], the youth, women, and civil organizations.
The National Dialogue Conference was launched with all parties participating in it. This dialogue has seen all parties coming to an agreement on a comprehensive plan. The national dialogue has succeeded in achieving 90 percent of its mission during the time granted to it under the Gulf Initiative. Despite the political diversity and different positions on display within the conference, the participants have been able to reach consensus on difficult issues, such as the Sa’adah Issue, for example. This was achieved thanks to the cooperation of all parties. There are some issues that still require debate, such as the form of the state and the Southern issue; however, significant progress has been achieved even on such polarizing issues.
Q: What are the most difficult outstanding issues in the National Dialogue Conference that could lead to obstruction or delay?
Some complications have emerged in some issues on the agenda, particularly regarding the Southern issue, but this is completely normal. For this reason, we have made efforts over the past few weeks to secure the return of Southern movement representatives who had withdrawn to the conference. In this context, President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the government took steps to build trust in the South. A sub-committee within the Southern Issue Working Group was formed, and just six days after it began work, it succeeded in reaching a preliminary agreement on a document outlining principles and outlets for the Southern issue. Other parties have requested more time to re-examine the various issues and consultations are currently underway. We hope that everyone cooperates in order to reach solutions regarding the outstanding issues.
Q: What’s your evaluation of the progress achieved regarding discussions on the future form of the Yemeni state? Will this end with the formation of two separate federal regions, for example?
The issue regarding the form of the future state is still being discussed by all parties. We hope it will be resolved as soon as possible; extensive debates are taking place with a high sense of responsibility. There has been prolonged discussion on this issue, and there is consensus regarding the question of the shape of the future state of Yemen. Proposals have been put forward regarding Yemen as a united, federal and democratic state, and that in itself is a major achievement that must be built on. There are many details to be resolved over the next few days, as well as other issues related to the new constitution and these will be dealt with during the constitutional drafting process. Other issues must be resolved as well within the framework of the legislation, which will be based on the new constitution. In general, agreement was reached on a large number of issues.
Q: How can we ensure that the results of the National Dialogue Conference by the factions within the Southern movement that refused to participate?
The dialogue taking place on the Southern issue is a serious dialogue, and includes representatives of Al-Hirak. It is true that there are some parties that are not participating in the national dialogue; however, everyone is working to create a mechanism that includes all parties, turns a new page, and addresses the suffering of the past. Everybody accepts that there have been breaches in human rights in the South with regards to the isolation of thousands of employees and individuals from the armed forces. There is also the serious issue revolving around territory, and efforts are being made to resolve these issues. All parties want the mistakes of the past to be resolved in the right way and to see serious efforts for reparations.
Q: There are reports in Yemen that the transitional period could be extended to five years, in addition to an extension for President Hadi’s term in office? Is there are any truth to these rumors?
There is a commitment from all parties to implement all the terms of the Gulf Initiative and its mechanism. We are now in the most delicate stage in the transition phase. There was a delay, for example, when President Hadi took decisions regarding military appointments, and there was much blocking and rejection of this and the process took four times longer than expected. This is why we are now urging all parties to work together to conclude the national dialogue as quickly as possible and enter into the constitution-drafting process. While it is true that there are some delays in implementing some of the missions of this phase, we urge everyone to cooperate to fulfill the outstanding issues.
Q: The Houthis in northern Yemen are now engaged in a conflict with tribes in the Amran Governorate. Are they a political or military group, in your opinion, given that they participated in the National Dialogue Conference?
The operational mechanism of the Gulf Initiative was clear and the agreement was the transfer of power to create the opportunity and framework to address the phenomenon of armed groups. This agreement also confirmed political participation for all parties and the national dialogue specifically the Houthis and other parties. However, it does have branches and militias, and eliminating the concept of armed militias is essential for rebuilding the Yemeni state.