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Stockholm, Yemen… Traditions, Intersections

Stockholm, Yemen… Traditions, Intersections

Thursday, 30 June, 2022 - 08:45
Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Anne Linde at the Yemen International Forum 2022 (Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies)

Sweden’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Ambassador Peter Semneby, constantly recalls old Swedish traditions centered around promoting conflict resolution and care for humanitarian affairs. Sweden has showcased those traditions in many conflicts around the world.

For example, Sweden has provided continued support to Afghanistan for over four decades, according to Semneby, who served three years as an ambassador to the South Asian country.

In Yemen, Sweden has made an effective contribution on the humanitarian and political levels. It cooperated with the Yemeni government and civil society organizations as well as with researchers, activists, and experts.

“The focus is the plight of the people living in that country,” Semneby told Asharq Al-Awsat about Sweden’s concern with Yemen.

Semneby spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat at the Yemen International Forum 2022, an event organized by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies in cooperation with the Folke Bernadotte Academy.

Held on June 17-19 in Stockholm, the Forum offered a platform for Yemenis to engage in in-depth conversations on the political situation, peace efforts and the economy.

Semneby stressed that Swedish interaction in Yemen began with humanitarian participation.

“Alongside Switzerland, we hosted five UN donor conferences for Yemen,” revealed Semneby, adding that Sweden later decided to complement its efforts for Yemen with actions that support a peace solution.

The Swedish shift in support yielded the Stockholm Agreement in 2018.

However, the Yemen International Forum 2022 mirrored deep divisions among Yemenis with some welcoming the event and others, like the Southern Transitional Council (STC), abstaining from participation.

Asharq Al-Awsat investigated the reason behind the STC not participating in the Forum and discovered that the Yemeni group strongly opposes the work of the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies.

“We sent a letter valuing the role played by Sweden in producing peace in Yemen and the region, and we apologized for not partaking in the Forum,” STC spokesman Ali Al-Kathiri told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“We did not participate because of the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies and its involvement in fueling conflict and tearing apart the Yemeni social fabric,” said Al-Kathiri, accusing the center of bias that goes against the cause of the people of southern Yemen.

Al-Kathiri added that the STC had relayed its concern and opposition to the Center’s work during an earlier meeting with Semneby in March.

For her part, Rasha Jarhum, from the Peace Track Initiative (PTI), stresses the importance of creating common spaces for all Yemenis.

“The Forum in Stockholm gathered more than 270 people, 36 % of whom were women,” noted Jarhum, adding that the assembly discussed many issues on the peace agenda, including south Yemen.

It also tackled the role of parties, minorities, women, tribes, and victims in advancing the peace process.

Moreover, the Forum discussed the challenges of integrating combatants.

“The Forum provided space for Yemeni, regional and international peacemakers to discuss and find future opportunities for cooperation,” said Jarhum.

“This space follows the holding of the Yemeni talks under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Riyadh talks), which brought together more than 500 people, of whom 12 % were women,” noted Jarhum.

The Riyadh talks had led to outcomes in six tracks for enhancing stability and national cohesion.

“It resulted in a political transformation that stirred stagnant waters,” said Jarhum about the Riyadh consultations.

“One of the most vital messages that I shared in the Forum is the importance of supporting the transitional stages by financing services and salaries, reparations, and fighting corruption,” she noted.

Tim Lenderking, US special envoy for Yemen, said that the Forum was a great opportunity to meet Yemenis from all over the country.

“While many Yemenis may disagree about some tactical moves, every Yemeni here desires peace, and these moments should be seized. Yemen is on a much better path,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat at the sidelines of the Forum.

“However, it’s a fragile path,” he added.

“If Yemenis work together and with the support of the international community, I really believe that peace in Yemen can become a reality,” noted Lenderking.

On Sweden expanding its efforts to find a peace solution for Yemen, Semneby notes that his country is partaking in regional consultations.

“We are also engaged in dialogue with regional actors,” said Semneby.

“Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Anne Linde has made at least four trips to the region, and Yemen has figured high on her agenda for the past four years,” affirmed the Swedish diplomat, adding that Linde has visited Yemen twice.

“The political process is in the hands of the UN,” he asserted.

“If there is a desire from the UN and from the parties, Sweden is ready to host further talks,” noted Semneby.

“But we also engage in conversations that are not part of any process; It could even be useful to the UN,” he explained.

Speaking about the advantages of the Forum, Semneby said: “Yemenis from a wide range of political parties and nationwide civil society organizations can meet in an informal setting to discuss the most pressing issues facing their country.”

He added that the Forum also aids Yemenis in putting forward long-term visions for the war-torn country.

“I hope that those who have been invited to Stockholm and who have not attended the Forum will consider the subject of this meeting, and the new ideas that have emerged,” said Semneby.

“I hope, for the future, they conclude that there is nothing to lose by participating, and that there is a lot to gain,” he added.

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