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The President's Take

Saving the Hodeida deal to increase aid to Yemenis

In his introduction to this month's edition of CrisisWatch, Crisis Group's conflict tracker, our President Robert Malley reflects on his recent trip to Yemen, discusses indicators of escalation in Mali and signs of hope in Algeria.

Last week I travelled to Yemen where the three-month old UN-brokered agreement to avoid a coalition assault on the port city of Hodeida – and thereby avert an even worse humanitarian catastrophe – hangs by a thread. Exploiting textual ambiguities, both the government and rebel Huthis, or Ansar Allah, are balking at redeploying their forces away from front lines because of a dispute over who will control the port-city after the withdrawal. There are legitimate reasons for the differing interpretations, but these ought not hold up implementation of the deal’s core provision, the demilitarisation of Hodeida port and city, which will allow the freer flow of goods and avert a catastrophic battle. One solution would be for the parties to agree to withdraw their forces and put off until later the issue of local control. If that’s what the UN envoy decides, all countries with influence – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, Iran, the U.S. along with other Western nations – should resolutely back him and press Yemeni parties to comply.

This coming week, I will be in Mali, the recent scene of a horrendous massacre. On 23 March, about a hundred Dozos – fighters who hail mostly from the Dogon and who have been battling the Fulani over access to land – killed at least 160 Fulani men, women and children, in the village of Ogossagou, in the centre of the country. The event was particularly gruesome, but it was not unique. The combination of the government’s increasing reliance on ethnically-based armed groups to fight jihadists and the security forces’ persecution of Fulanis whom they claim to be aligned with those same jihadists has proved toxic. Risks are considerable: that ethnic cleansing will spread, that Fulanis will be tempted to join the jihadist cause, and that spiralling ethnic violence engulfs not just Mali but neighbouring Burkina Faso as well.

Throughout this period, my mind has been on Algeria, the country through which I was first introduced to the Arab world, and with which I have a long history and deep ties. From the struggle for independence in the 1950s and 60s, to the civil war in the 1990s, Algeria’s chapters often have been written in blood. But the sight of hundreds of thousands peacefully marching, reclaiming their history, and refusing to turn their proud nation into a farce, provided – for at least a fleeting moment – reason for hope.

Our colleague Michael Kovrig remains in detention, held for no good reason and under unjustifiable conditions by Chinese authorities. The 100-day mark has been passed. Enough already.