22nd Oct 2020

EU considering Yemen sanctions as Arab diplomacy falters

  • EU and US nationals have been advised to leave Yemen as quickly as possible and many embassies are already working with essential staff only (Photo: Sallam)

Syria-type EU arms trade and visa bans are looking ever more likely to be imposed on Yemen as fellow Arab countries struggle to resolve the crisis.

EU foreign relations spokeswoman Maja Kocjancic told EUobserver on Tuesday (31 May) that the Union is still waiting to see if Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries manage to push through a deal for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down in return for legal immunity for killings.

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She added: "But if this is not the case, we will see what we have to do as the next step. Obviously, we need to up the pressure and we are looking into options on how to do that. You've seen what happened with some other countries in the region."

Kocjancic said the pace of the EU reaction depends on future developments. But one senior EU diplomat noted that the next EU foreign affairs meeting, due on 20 June, is an implicit cut-off point. "We will not wait so long. June is the maximum deadline," the contact said.

A diplomat stationed in one Western embassy in Sanaa told this website on Tuesday afternoon that she woke up to the sound of "quite a bit of gunfire" but that "right now, we're not hearing anything."

She explained that violence began to escalate on 23 May after President Saleh at the last minute declined to sign the GCC agreement.

"There are reports that quite a few protesters were killed in [the southern city of] Taiz. But we don't have exact numbers. We have no reports of the air force being used. But all kinds of different weapons are being used in both Taiz and Sanaa, small arms as well as more heavy artillery."

When asked if she believes the country is heading for civil war, she said: "Yemen has a capacity to be very unpredictable. I honestly couldn't say."

The UN has estimated the number of deaths in the Taiz clashes at 50 since Sunday. Several hundred have died since unrest began in January.

EU and US nationals have been advised to leave the country as quickly as possible and many embassies are already working with essential staff only. The Sanaa-based contact said the airport is working as normal and people are still using their cars to get there, but some flights are being diverted.

EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton in a communique on the Taiz killings on Tuesday said she is "shocked" and that "reports of attacks on medical facilities are appalling."

The US embassy in Sanaa said it "condemns the unprovoked and unjustified attack on peaceful demonstrators" in Taiz and "commends the youth protesters who have shown both resolve and restraint."

Yemen is a strategically important country for EU security due to the presence of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the south of the country and due to its location along the vital trade route through the Gulf of Aden.

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