Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemen’s legitimate government has accused Jamal Benomar, the UN’s former special envoy to Yemen, of siding with the Houthi movement during UN-sponsored talks between the country’s different political factions earlier in the year.
Benomar was tasked by the UN to oversee negotiations aimed at ending Yemen’s political crisis after the Houthis seized control of the capital Sana’a in September of 2014 and then launched a coup against Yemen’s internationally recognized president and government in February.
Speaking over the phone from his residence in London on Monday, Yemen’s Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin told Asharq Al-Awsat that the way Benomar had handled the talks had effectively legitimized the Houthi coup against Yemen’s legitimate President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.
Yassin said Benomar was biased towards the Houthis and insisted on continuing the talks despite both President Hadi and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah being placed under virtual house arrest at the time by the Houthis’ militias.
Yassin added that he had asked Benomar to suspend the talks until both Hadi and Bahah were released, but Benomar refused, saying: “The dialogue will continue and the most important point is that a deal, no matter what kind it is, gets signed,” according to the Yemeni FM.
Yassin accused Benomar of seeking personal success in his haste to persuade Yemen’s political factions to sign a power-sharing deal regardless of whether it would be implemented or not.
He also dismissed Benomar’s recent comments to the Wall Street Journal. The former UN envoy told the publication a political deal in Yemen was close before the Saudi-led military campaign against the Houthis began on March 26.
Yassin said these comments amounted to “lies.”
Benomar, Yassin claimed, also backed the Houthis in their rejection of moving the talks outside Sana’a, the Shi’ite group’s new seat of power, despite Hadi’s complaints to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
“As a neutral international mediator, [Benomar] should have maintained the same distance from all political factions in Yemen,” Yassin said. He argued that the Houthis should not have been included as a legitimate side in the talks in the first place given their recent violations and acts of aggression against the Yemeni people.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, a Yemeni source said the Houthis had hosted Benomar in their northern stronghold of Saada while their militia occupied Sana’a in September.
During the three-day visit to the northern province, Benomar met with Houthi leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, the source maintained.
Benomar resigned as UN Special Adviser on Yemen in mid-April after failing to reach a power-sharing deal to end the crisis in the country.