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On Yemen, UNSC Echoes IMF On Fuel Subsidy Cuts, Talk of Poor, Houthi Camps

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 29, update with US statement -- While on Yemen the UN Security Council on August 29 focused mostly on the Houthi rebels, adding a condemnation of attacks by Al Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula, the protests in Sana'a are as much about the cut in fuel subsidies and other austerity measures “recommended” by the International Monetary Fund.

  Inner City Press asked outgoing Security Council president Mark Lyall Grant if the topic had come up in the Council's closed door consultations on August 29. He acknowledged that it had, but said that UN envoy Jamal Benomar had replied that the decision to cut the fuel subsidies was the right one. From the UK transcript:

Inner City Press: in the consultations was there any discussion of the cutting of fuel subsidies? It seems like a lot of the protest there are actually based on the raising cost of fuel demanded by the IMF. What is the relationship between Houthi "troublemaking" and actual protest of austerity of the rising cost of living, and what can be done?
Amb Lyall Grant:Yes, a number of Council Members raised questions about that.  In response, Jamal Benomar gave the background to the Economic Reform Programme and why the government needed to eliminate the fuel subsidies. He considered that to be the correct decision, and indeed, the Council as a whole supported that in the Presidential Statement when it referred to the importance of economic reform. Of course that is not popular with all parts of Yemeni society and that is not a surprise. And Houthis have tried to take advantage of concerns about the elimination of the fuel subsidies for their own political ends, but that does not mean it was not the right decision for the government to take.

   Some might see all this as the UN Security Council operating in lockstep with the IMF, when the Council's power dynamics are more diverse, at least pending the IMF quota reform that the UN Senate has yet to approve.

So when Benomar followed Lyall Grant to the Security Council stakeout, Inner City Press asked him if it was in fact his and the UN's view at the fuel subsidy cuts are the right way to go. Benomar said that decision had been made, and reforms are needed. But he added that there is talk of a “package,” that would include alleviating the impacts on the poor.

The Council's Presidential Statement made various calls on the Houthis, including to dismantle their camps in Sana'a. It specifically named Abdul Malik al Houthi and military commander Abdullah Yahya al Hakim, and called on the Houthis to “withdraw their forces from Amran and return Amran to Government of Yemen control.”

Looking forward a full month, the statement cited “the next Friends of Yemen meeting that will take place on September 24 in New York.” We'll be there. Watch this site.

Update: soon after the UN Security Council Presidential Statement was read out, the US State Department issued this, naming one of the two individuals in the UNSC Statement:

The United States joins the United Nations Security Council and the international community in strongly condemning the actions taken by the Houthis, led by Abdul Malik al Houthi, and those who support them.  Their actions seek to undermine the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) political transition process and Yemen’s stability.  In particular, we condemn the Houthi’s provocative, aggressive, and destabilizing actions and incitement against the Government of Yemen, the establishment of armed camps in and around Sana’a, and their continued illegitimate control of Amran.

We call on the Houthis to immediately dismantle their armed camps and checkpoints in and around Sana’a; withdraw their forces from Amran, return Amran to Government of Yemen control, and return the weapons looted from the 310th Brigade compound; implement ceasefires in all conflict areas to prevent further violence from destabilizing the transition process; and cooperate with the Government of Yemen efforts to achieve a sustainable and peaceful political resolution to the current conflict, consistent with the GCC Initiative and National Dialogue recommendations.

We commend President Hadi’s continued efforts as he leads Yemen in implementing the GCC Initiative and National Dialogue recommendations.  We call on the Houthis, and all parties, to participate peacefully in Yemen’s transition process, which offers a historic opportunity to build an inclusive system of governance that ensures a stable and prosperous future for all Yemenis.  The United States remains firmly committed to supporting President Hadi and all Yemenis in this endeavor.  


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