[Anglican Communion News Service] U.N.-led peace talks between the warring parties in Yemen get underway Dec. 15 and the Archdeacon in the Gulf, the Venerable Bill Schwartz, has called for prayers that the talks will lead to a “real resolution and reconciliation” resulting in a “truly inclusive” reconstruction in the country.
There had been various violent incidents in the country for a number of years but the current civil war began in March and involves separatists from the south of the country, a Houthi-group from the north with affinity to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and forces loyal to the current President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.
This has been compounded by airstrikes from a Saudi Arabian-led coalition using intelligence and logistical support from the USA, who have also conducted drone strikes. There have also been attacks by Islamist groups Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Daesh.
The Saudi-led coalition is enforcing an air and naval blockade of the country. Aid supplies are being allowed through but it is not enough to prevent eight million Yemenis facing severe food insecurity.
This week, the United Nations announced that its World Food Programme (WFP) had managed to overcome fighting, airstrikes and checkpoints to deliver life-saving aid to the central city of Taiz, which had been under a virtual siege. The convoy of aid has delivered “enough food for nearly 145,000 people for a month,” the U.N. said.
The food was delivered to the city’s Salah and al-Qahira districts in two convoys of 31 trucks; a third convoy is currently making its way to the Mudhafar district.
“Taiz is one of 10 governorates out of 22 that are in the grip of severe food insecurity at ‘Emergency’ level – one step below famine,” the UN said this week. “At least one in five households in the area does not have enough food for a healthy life, has lost its livelihood and faces life-threatening rates of acute malnutrition.”
The WFP’s Yemen director, Ms Purnima Kashyap, said that “we are overcoming enormous access challenges to deliver much-needed assistance into the city, where the humanitarian situation has deteriorated over the past couple of months.
“WFP needs freedom and safety of movement inside the country to reach as many people as possible with food assistance before they fall deeper into hunger.”
There is now hope for progress after the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, announced that the warring parties had agreed to a ceasefire and peace talks, which will begin in Geneva, Switzerland, on Dec. 15, with the aim of “establishing a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.”
“We strongly believe that the only way to end the suffering of the Yemeni people and to rebuild confidence, trust, and mutual respect is through peaceful and inclusive dialogue,” Ahmed said.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, he said that he was “very optimistic” of the parties reaching a permanent ceasefire, adding: “I call upon the parties to engage in good faith in search of a durable political solution for Yemen which meets the legitimate aspirations of Yemeni people for peace, stability, and prosperity.”
Such an agreement would require “a lot of courage, personal sacrifice and tenacity,” he said.
The Government of Yemen, the Houthis and other relevant parties have all committed to participate in the talks. Ahmed will chair the dialogue which will include eight negotiators and four advisers for each delegation.
The U.N. said that the parties had been strongly encouraged “to work on confidence building measures, including implementing a ceasefire, releasing prisoners, and facilitating the delivery of humanitarian supplies that would constitute positive steps in the efforts to lessen tensions and ease the path to a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Yemen.”
Responding to news of the talks, Schwartz, an Episcopal Church missionary, told ACNS that he was encouraged that the dialogue would be accompanied by a ceasefire, but added: “In the past neither side has been particularly successful in maintaining a cease-fire.
“Please pray for a will that the talks could accomplish a level of agreement between the main warring factions,” he said. “Please also pray that the third factor in the fighting will also be figured into the attempt to find a way forward.
“There is no doubt that the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh is involved in the unrest, and any plan for a cease-fire will not succeed unless his influence is countered in some way.
“Also pray that there is more than a cease-fire accomplished. There will be no real resolution and reconciliation without a clear plan for reconstruction of the country which is truly inclusive among the different factions.”
Before the talks were announced, the Archdeacon supplied an update on the situation in Yemen for the Jerusalem and Middle East Christian Association.
“The Anglican ministry in Aden has survived the war,” he said. “We are extremely grateful to God’s mercy that none of our staff were injured in the collateral damage of the fighting, and the continuing menace of mines that are still exploding around the city.
“We took the decision to close [Christ Church] and [its Ras Morbat] clinic when the fighting got serious, aware that it would be dangerous for people to gather at the church property.
“There were faithful Yemeni staff on site all the time, and there were multiple instances where they were able to turn away looters. Unfortunately, the buildings suffered extensive damage from nearby explosions; virtually all of the windows and doors were blown out. The roofs of two of the buildings were seriously damaged as well. . .
“Even during the fighting, our medical staff were visited in their homes by patients familiar with the clinic, and some who were injured in the fighting.
“As soon as the shooting and bombing in Aden stopped in August our able and faithful administrator got busy right away repairing doors and windows for the clinic section of the property. The reception and examination areas were re-opened in mid-September. We were able to repair the rest of the medical wing and resumed performing eye surgeries in mid-October. Aside from our traditional patient load our staff has now begun treating many injured in the fighting.
“As far as we can determine ours is the only eye clinic functioning in Aden at present. Even [Médecins Sans Frontières] is referring all eye injuries to our clinic.
Water supply has been restored and electricity is available, though there are frequent daily power cuts. Thankfully, the generator continues to function well and the doctors are able to continue even when power fails.”
He explained that the parish ministry had “always necessarily focused on expatriates living in Aden” and until the ex-pat presence returned “we are not in any rush to re-start parish ministry.”
“Right now, extremist groups are assassinating foreigners, even Muslims from the Gulf countries who have come with the Red Crescent Society to provide food and medical care for Yemenis. It looks like there will be some delay before aid and development NGO staff will be able to return to the city. However, it is our hope that we will be able to establish a clergy couple in Aden as soon as it is safe for them to be there.
“Those who come to work with NGOs to assist in rebuilding the country will need ministry and pastoral care for sure.”
He said that a number of Roman Catholic church properties had been severely damaged. “A residential building in one of their churches was damaged by shelling. Two properties were subsequently vandalized and one of those is burned out with the roof and interior destroyed,” he said. “We give thanks than none of the Catholic clergy or sisters have been injured. There is continued prayer and sacramental ministry among the staff, but not at the church compounds.”
On Wednesday, an office at the already-badly damaged Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Mualla was attacked and bombed by extremists. Nobody was hurt in the incident. “We heard a strong explosion which sent a big plume of smoke into the air and afterward saw that the building was completely destroyed,” an eyewitness told Reuters.