Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Houthi movement will withdraw its militias from the southern port city of Aden, as part of initial efforts to reach an agreement with Yemen’s government to resolve the crisis currently gripping the country, sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on Wednesday.
This comes as the government announced on Tuesday it would be sending a delegation to Geneva later this month to meet with Houthi representatives, as part of efforts brokered by UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
The government had earlier withdrawn from a meeting in the Swiss city, scheduled for May 28, due to the Houthis not agreeing to comply with the demands set forth in a UN Security Council resolution on Yemen adopted in April.
Resolution 2216 stipulates the Houthis withdraw from all areas in the country currently occupied by their militias, including Aden and the capital Sana’a, and cease all hostile action.
The sources say the Houthi leadership, which met with Ould Cheikh Ahmed in Sana’a on Sunday, have agreed to implement the demands set forth in the UN resolution, and will withdraw their militias from Aden as a “first step.”
However, the sources said the UN envoy did not reach an “ironclad agreement” with the group, which only made “informal promises” that it would begin to comply with the resolution but only if the government agreed to hold peace talks in Geneva.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, one Yemeni political source with knowledge of the situation, who requested anonymity, shed light on why the government had agreed to the meeting in Geneva, scheduled to fall on June 14, according to reports.
“This came due to advice given by a number of regional and international players, [who asked the government] to prove its good intentions and show that the Houthis were not serious about the promises they have made to both domestic and international mediators,” the source said.
The Saudi-led coalition targeting the Houthis, whose aerial campaign began on March 26, previously extended an offer of a five-day humanitarian truce—which was supposed to begin on May 12—on condition the Houthis cease all hostile action. However, following agreement from the group the coalition said it had restarted the bombardment due to the Houthis not fulfilling their promises.
Other sources were skeptical regarding the recent reports that the Houthis will withdraw from Aden, maintaining the group had held talks with the southern secessionist Al-Hirak movement to “hand over” the city to the southerners’ forces.
One source told Asharq Al-Awsat the withdrawal represented a “feeble effort to set up a schism in the south and open up a conflict between President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and elements from Al-Hirak.”
Al-Hirak seeks to reinstate the former Republic of South Yemen and declare independence from northern sections of the country.
The South united with the rest Yemen in 1990, but the relationship remained tense and a civil war ensued four years later which ended in former president Ali Abdullah Saleh ordering the military to occupy southern portions of the country in order to quell the unrest.
“The Houthis know full well how much the southerners [Al-Hirak] seek to reinstate their state [of South Yemen] which was taken from them by Ali Abdullah Saleh through military force in 1994. What they don’t know, however, is that the southerners are much more politically mature now than they were before,” the source added.
Saleh was ousted in 2012 following mass protests against his more than three-decade rule a year earlier. Alongside Iran, he has been accused by Saudi Arabia, its Arab allies and the international community of aiding the Houthi coup in Yemen—which was declared in February when the group deposed Hadi, placing him and members of his cabinet under house arrest.
The February coup followed the Houthi occupation of Sana’a in September of 2014 when the group took over government, military and media buildings and facilities amid a complete security vacuum in the city—believed to have been orchestrated by Saleh, through members of the military and security establishments still loyal to him.
Other sources said the Houthis now wish to “cut their losses” following the airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition, aware that “the longer the aerial campaign continues, the weaker their position will be.”
The sources said the Shi’ite group now knows it will have no role to play in the political process in the country and wishes to “sow sedition as it exits the scene”—as well as receive guarantees from the UN that its leadership will no longer be subject to sanctions or put on international terror lists.
A November 2014 Security Council resolution slapped travel bans and asset freezes on a number of Houthi leaders as well as Saleh.