Wednesday, March 30, 2016

In Yemen, UN Retaliates for Envoy Leak to Inner City Press, Silent on Saleh Challenge

By Matthew Russell Lee

WASHINGTON, March 28 --  On the one year anniversary of the Saudi-led Coalition's campaign of airstrikes on Yemen, the Houthis and Saleh's GPC held separate rallies in Sana'a on March 26, photos below. 
At Saleh's rally, the first time he'd addresses people in public place in the past year according to Inner City Press' sources he said that the UN Security Council - and by implication its envoy -- will do nothing to resolve the conflict and that he would "ignore it". If it's a real Security Council speaking for the peoples, Saleh said, it should stop the war.
 On March 28, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here:
Inner City Press: about Yemen, on the one-year anniversary of the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing, which was held on the 26th, there were two big rallies in Sana’a.  One was by the Houthis, but another one was by followers of former President Saleh.  It was a pretty large one.  There are photographs of it.  And at this rally, he said he has no more interest in working with the UN Security Council or its envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, that only to deal directly with the Saudis.  And that if the UN had meant business, they would have stopped these air strikes long ago.  So I wanted to know, given that this is sort of a third element in the Yemen situation, what are Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s comments, relations with the Saleh side and this massive rally?

Spokesman:  Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed is continuing to speak to all sides in the region.  That has not changed.  And it is not, it’s not the Secretary-General that can stop the fighting.  It is those who have their fingers on the trigger or on the bomb doors that can actually stop the fighting.

Inner City Press:  Right.  I think their critique was just that it’s not an even-handed mediation...
Note: Inner City Press is informed that after its recent exclusive report on Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed's email to Feltman, not only did Dujarric's deputy Haq in retaliation deny Inner City Press any question -- also, Department of Political Affairs were questioned about their possible leaking

Saleh's rally, March 26, 2016
  Saleh reiterated calls for direct talks with the Saudis, which the Houthis are already doing, and said that his party is coordinating with other Yemeni groups including Houthi to end the conflict. This came after Saleh's seeming exclusion from the direct talks between Houthis and Saudis which led to a lessening of border fighting and exchange of prisoners. h/t Shuaib Almosawa

Houthis' rally, March 26, 2016
When Inner City Press asked US State Department spokesperson John Kirby about Yemen on March 15, Kirby said "we welcome the fact that there is a cessation of hostilities." On March 23 at the UN, Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq did not even allow Inner City Press a question to UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
 On March 24, Inner City Press asked Farhan Haq, UN transcript here:
on Yemen, I wanted to know, there are reports of talks, not only the ones between the Saudis and the Houthis, but now of talks in Oman concerning the possible remo… departure from Sana’a of President… former President [Ali Abdullah] Saleh in exchange for immunity.  And I wanted to know, as I'd wanted to know yesterday, whether the envoy… the UN envoy is involved in either of these two tracks of talks or if they… he thinks they undermine his track, the fact that the Saudis and Houthis are talking directly and the fact that there are talks in Oman about Saleh and his future legal status.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as I believe he actually said, you know, he was… he's not involved in that separate process of talks that is happening between the Saudis and the Houthis.  But he is… he encourages them because they are helping to move this process along. 
  But are they driving the Houthis and Saleh apart? We'll have more on this.
  On March 23, Inner City Press asked at the end about Saleh leaving the country, if any Permanent Five member of the Security Council is asking for that. I haven't heard that, the fishy envoy said (Vine here), leaving without answer about his blocking practices on Twitter.
 On March 24 Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft about the Yemen talks going on outside of Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed's track -- Rycroft said it's a good question, the various talks should all come together -- and if the UK thinks Saleh should leave Yemen. Video here.
  That's up to the Yemeni people, Rycroft said. Another Press question is, whither Hadi? Has he lost legitimacy? Does the UAE support Bahah? On the UAE, where is the UN's former Libya envoy -- and former top Spanish official in the UN system, a title now in the news -- Bernardino Leon? We'll have more on this.
Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed announced a cessation of hostilities - but not under April 10 - and talks on April 18 in Kuwait. Inner City Press is told that despite how pro-Saudi he (and the UN's question selection) is, there is still anger at things the envoy said. Here a link to his opening remarks. We'll have more on this.
  On March 16, Inner City Press returned to the State Department and asked Kirby's deputy Mark Toner about the Saudi airstrikes in Hajjah which killed, it asked, 41 or 107 people; Toner replied in part that the US could not verify the specifics, see below.
 On March 19, amid yet MORE Saudi airstrikes on Sana'a, the UN's fishy envoy Ismail Ould Cheick Ahmed said something pubicly, on Twitter - but it was not about the bombing and suffering. Instead it was: "Important meetings in Sana'a today in order to prepare for the next round of peace talks for #Yemen."
  So Inner City Press asked him, "Press question for @OSESGY: I see you saying you have important meetings in Sana'a; any comment on #Saudi airstrikes there?"
  While some predicted blocking -- the approach taken by Burundi's current Ambassador to the UN, and a former of a P5 -- we will await a response and explanation, watch this site.
On March 18, Inner City Press asked Kirby again:
Inner City Press: On Yemen, I see that you answered yesterday and you said you didn’t have the details yet about this airstrike in Hajjah province, but now the UN’s human rights commissioner has said that his team got there on Wednesday.  They put the death count at 106.  UNICEF Yemen puts it at 118.  So I’m just wondering, do you accept that as kind of – as – is that enough information to – for the U.S. to say this did happen and that’s the death count?

MR KIRBY:  We’re aware and deeply concerned by reports that a significant number of civilians may have been killed or injured during a strike near a market in northern Yemen.  I’m unable today to verify any of the specifics of what happened.  I would note, though, that the coalition has stated that it will conduct an investigation of the incident, and we encourage them to conduct a prompt, transparent investigation and publicly release the results.  It’s vital that the investigation provide a thorough and objective accounting of the facts and circumstances of the incident and, if appropriate, to address any factors that led to it so that we can prevent reoccurrence, of course.

As we’ve said previously, we’re deeply concerned by the effects of the crisis in Yemen, both in terms of civilian casualties and the dire humanitarian situation which still exists.  Okay?
 On March 18, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights put the civilian death toll at 106; UNICEF in Yemen puts the figure at 118 dead including 22 children.
 On March 16, Inner City Press returned and asked Kirby's deputy Mark Toner about the Saudi airstrike in Hajjah, full video here from Minute 56:28; Vine hereUS transcript here:
QUESTION: Inner City Press. I want to ask about Yemen and something about the UN.


Inner City Press: On Yemen, yesterday, Mr. Kirby said that we welcome the fact that there’s a cessation of hostilities. And then, as I’m sure you know, there was a big airstrike in Haja province – some people say 41 killed --


Inner City Press: -- some say 107. What do you say to that? And related back to the genocide question, also still on Yemen, Sudan is part of the coalition. Sudan has troops in Yemen with the U.S.-supported coalition. And I’m wondering, how is that – does that – does the genocide finding as to Omar al-Bashir in Darfur have any implication for the U.S. not being part of a coalition or militarily cooperating with a government whose head of state is charged with genocide by the ICC and was found by Colin Powell to --

MR TONER: So to your first question, we’re certainly aware of the reports that civilians may have been killed or injured during a strike, I believe, near a market in Haja province. I can’t at this time – cannot verify the specifics. We remain deeply concerned by the devastating toll of the crisis in Yemen, both in terms of civilian casualties, but also, obviously, in terms of the humanitarian situation that Yemen faces. We urge all sides to comply with obligations under international humanitarian law.

Speaking to the broader peace process, as you know, Secretary Kerry was just there. I was with him over the weekend, as was poor Dave here. And we were on a trip to Saudi Arabia. But one of the things that we discussed – he discussed, rather, with both the Saudi – His Royal Highness King Salman, also the crown prince, and the deputy crown prince as well as Saudi Foreign Minister al-Jubeir – they talked about the need for a political solution to the situation in Yemen. And so we support the UN efforts to that end.

In terms of your second question, I’m actually – I just don’t know the specifics about that or what prohibits us – you’re saying why we would not have been part of this, are we prohibited from taking part in that?

Inner City Press: No, no, I guess I was saying – you were saying that there – or people were saying in this first round that there were some legal implications if you make a finding of genocide. And I don't know if those include not working with --

MR TONER: But I’m not sure whether they pertain to --

Inner City Press: -- the government who --

MR TONER: I’d have to – yeah, I can take that question. I don't know.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you know – just one other – because I think the question was taken yesterday.


QUESTION: I wanted to ask about this corruption case about the UN. Today, in the Southern District of New York, the former deputy permanent representative of the Dominican Republic pled guilty and has pledged to cooperate against the former president of the General Assembly, John Ashe. I wanted to know the State Department’s position on it, and also on the Government Accountability Project. They wrote a letter – a public letter to the U.S. Mission to the UN urging them to get involved in opposing retaliation by the UN against the press that has been reporting on the corruption scandal. I think that some members of Congress are actually now – but I haven’t seen anything from the State – from the U.S. mission. So I’m wondering, is the State Department aware of the corruption case, and also separately of this GAP letter, and what’s their response to it?

MR TONER: I would imagine we’re aware. I’m not, unfortunately. I apologize we haven’t gotten back to you on that. We’ll take it.
On March 15, Inner City Press asked US State Department spokesperson John Kirby, from the US transcript:
Inner City Press: I want to ask about Yemen.  I saw the Secretary’s comments when he was in Saudi Arabia about possibility of a ceasefire similar to Syria and something about having teams on the ground working on that.  So I wanted to know – it seems like there’s talks between the Houthis and the Saudis that don’t involve Saleh or even Hadi.  It seems – what’s the U.S.’s – like, what was he referring to?  Is it – does he view direct negotiations between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia as a positive thing?  Is that the ceasefire he’s talking about?  And what’s the role of the UN envoy, who seems not to be part of those talks, and of Mr. Hadi going forward?  Is he the future president of Yemen or is he – has time passed him by?

MR KIRBY:  So there’s a lot there.  There – we still continue to support the UN special envoy and his efforts.  That’s not going to change.  And when the Secretary was in the region over the weekend, Yemen was – as he said, was a significant point of discussion with Saudi leaders.  Nothing has changed about our support for the UN special envoy and his efforts to get a political process going and move forward.  And the United States is going to remain firmly behind that effort.

He also said that we welcome reports that there is a reduction in violence between Houthis and the coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia.  We welcome the fact that there is a cessation of hostilities, quite frankly, that appears to also be holding.  That’s a good thing, because we’ve long said that there needs to be an increased effort by the international community to get humanitarian aid and assistance to so many Yemeni citizens who are in need, and that’s hard to do when there is still violence going on between both sides.

So we welcome this – that development, and we welcome the news that there are discussions between the two sides.  If those discussions can lead to a resolution of the conflict and to a continuation of the reduction of violence, that too is a healthy thing.  But it doesn’t mean that we aren’t also going to continue to support the UN track here, because we still believe that that is an important part of putting in place a sustainable governing structure, one that the Yemeni people clearly deserve going forward.  So it’s both, it’s both.  And he’s very much focused on both tracks and I think you’re going to continue to see that be the case going forward."
 On March 15, a Saudi airstrike killed at least 106 civilians in northern Yemen... 
On March 14, Inner City Press had asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric:
Inner City Press: on Yemen, there are obviously a lot of reports now that the Saudis are negotiating directly with the Houthis.  This was referred to by some degree by John Kerry in his visit to Saudi Arabia over the weekend.  Where is the envoy?  Is the envoy part of this?  Is this outside the envoy…

Spokesman:  We referred to it, as well, on Thursday or Friday where this is something that the envoy welcomes and has been encouraging for some time.
 But is he involved?