Local News Political Analysis

Grassroots Conflict Resolution in Saada

An Interview with Fares Manna’a

Fares Mohammed Hasan Manna’a was born in 1970 and is a graduate of faculty of politics and economy at the University of Sana’a. He studied many business administration courses in London, and was a former chairman of the Mediation Committee between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels, and is currently the chairman of the “National Peace Conference.”

Government authorities arrested Fares Mana’a in January 2010 in the capital Sana’a after his name was distributed on a blacklist which labeled him a wanted arms dealer.  The blacklist was presented by official bodies in October 2009 and contained the names of a number of arm dealers and individuals who import arms from abroad.  A statement in the government Al-Thawra newspaper cautioned those named in the blacklist against importing weapons and ammunition, designating such smuggling “against legal regulations and to the detriment of Yemen’s interest.”

Fares Manna’a was released in May 4th 2010, three months after his arrest, and after a short period he announced the establishment of a social and tribal bloc in order to spread peace in the battleground between the Houthi rebels and the Yemeni authorities in Saada, Sufyan and Al-Jawf provinces, calling it the “National Peace Conference.”

The formation of the group was announced by Mr. Mana’a in a conference held in the capital Sana’a, in which he emphasized that the new body would not conflict with any other entity, nor did it belong to any political party.  Rather, it was founded out of concern for the suffering of the people of Saada and its neighboring territories.

He then proceeded to inaugurate his organization in Saada governorate itself on Monday August 24th, 2010 through a festival in al-Talh area.  The event witnessed an unprecedented response, as numerous Saada residents — more than an estimated 8 thousand attendees – declared their willingness to sacrifice all that they had to cooperate with the conference in all aspects and in contributing toward spreading peace.

Interviewed by: Saddam Alashmury

Q: We heard of your establishing the National Peace Conference in Saada, tell us more about this conference and what it means?

The national peace conference is a social non-profit organization and doesn’t contradict with any other entity nor belongs to any party, but it stems from the suffering of the people of Saada and its neighboring territories in addition to our recognition of collective responsibility for solving the conflict. We reached a formula to establish this conference after arrangements with all segments of society in Saada governorate, and we consider it the only way to peace.

Declaring the national peace conference and spreading peace to Saada is an urgent necessity and is a responsibility of every Yemeni towards his country and religion.

Q: What is the purpose of forming this conference and who are its members?

It consists of all segments of society in Saada governorate and its neighboring areas as well as all the country’s governorates, and the purpose is to lay the foundations of peace and security, in Saada specifically, and in all Yemen.  It aims to achieve a comprehensive reconciliation that is fair and impartial, to impose a permanent peace agenda, to punish any breaches and violations by any party which disturbs the public peace, to spread the rule of law, to establish the values of justice and goodness and development for all, to monitor the implementation of peace terms, and to demand continuous follow-up investigations to compensate the injured and provide reparations for war damages, and finally to adopt principles of impartial dialogue as an the ideal option to resolve fundamental problems.

Q: Does the conference include sides from the Houthis and the government?

The conference is totally neutral and includes citizens of Saada governorate and other governorates as well, and considers the interest of the governorate and will raise its points very honestly and will fight for it.  The conference will also include businessmen, farmers, tribal leaders, laborers, members of local associations and councils – so all these segments of society will be represented.

Q: Did you face any troubles or difficulties while inaugurating the conference?

We have only faced one problem, which was allowing members of the media to cover the conference; they were arrested in al-Jabal Al-Aswad checkpoint and held in Amran for hours then turned back to Sana’a.

Q: How was the response of the Houthis and Saada’s tribes to the conference?

Actually the response was unprecedentedly positive;  there were 8 thousand attendees, and they seemed willing to sacrifice everything they had to make the process work.

Q: What about the Houthis’ response towards the conference?

Though they showed some hesitation based on their previous experiences, they stated that it was a good thing to have a conference that is serious regarding a peace process, and that the Houthis will consider further cooperation with our group because it is represented both by the Houthi popular base, and by the government.

And the conference will be so important for them because they are the ones who are in need of peace and they are the ones who will be affected.

Q: How are your relations with the authorities?

Good.

Q: What was the reason for your arrest a few months ago?

It was because of false accusations, incorrect reports, and rumors.

Q: Then what was the basis of your release?

No charges existed.

Q: Is your establishment of the conference a reaction towards what the government’s did to you?

No, it’s not, it was a result of the suffering of the people of Saada and the surrounding area, which have been subjected to six rash wars that caused heavy losses in lives and property.

Saada has been neglected for many years in all levels and Saada’s citizens are still homeless or prisoners. And it is our duty more than ever to stand united to promote peace and security and to declare a comprehensive reconciliation among all sides of the war, as it is the only way to achieve development and reconstruction.

Q: We heard from the media about the UN resolution on Monday April 12, 2010, which amended the eighth section of the Security Council resolution no. 1884 from 2008 “regarding sanctions to freeze government funds” because the United States accused you of transferring or selling banned weapons or materiel directly or indirectly to Somalia?

There are neither decisions nor charges and all that was heard are false rumors and unconfirmed official hearsay which is not based in truth.

Q: You were the mediation committee chairman between the Houthis and the government, is that right?

I was not a mediator, but I was a messenger of the president, and I was doing what I was ordered by him.

Q: What did the committee undertake while you were its chairman?

We played a major role to stop the war when we opened the roads, lifted the siege on Saada governorate – though the condition of one of the brigades were critical.  Yet we interfered and stopped its fall and ceased-fire, fully.  We have also entered forces into areas which were dominated by Houthis and established a government presence in many areas and spread peace, generally.

Q: Why do you think the role of this committee did not continue?

Due to Political haggling, the absence of honest will for peace, and because no one wanted to sustain peace with my agency, due to the false reports written about me, that’s why they rejected any kind of peace that can be achieved by our side…I don’t know why.

Q: Is it true what we hear about your arms trading in the horn of Africa?

That is not true; I am not an arms dealer, but we are mediators and consultants and we deal with these affairs according to what the international and local law permits us to, and what is been said was said by people to conceal the truth, and they have tried many times yet failed to find any of my actions contrary to the law. And we remain confident that we work legally according to valid regulations.

Q: There are people who can find a contradiction between an arms dealer and an envoy of national peace? What do you say?

I have already mentioned that we do not possess any weapons and all weapons go to the government. Furthermore, I think that any person who fears God and loves his country will pay attention to maintaining peace in his country, and I am wondering about the spread of such rumors.  Earlier I clarified that I am not an arms dealer but a mediator and a consultant for Yemen and for other countries, and I am a believer and I love my country and am ready to sacrifice everything for its sake. And thank God we have sacrificed a lot for the country.

Q: How do you diagnose the current condition of Saada?

Saada needs a comprehensive and an urgent peace as well as changing strategy and former policy that had been previously administrated. Saada needs to regain its rights politically, socially and economically.

Q: There were six wars in Saada. Who in your opinion benefited and who won?

No one is ever a winner, and the citizens of Saada and all Yemen are the ones who lost

Q: What do you think of the role of mediator by neighboring countries – is there an honest intention to sustain peace?

We appreciate all mediations and efforts done to sustain peace, at their forefront Qatar.  Regarding the neighboring countries, they care for their security and all who serve their security, and after all everybody wants peace.

Q: What is the actual role for the peace conference in achieving peace and what are its mechanisms?

Our duty is to make the conference the representative of Saada’s citizens and it will also be the entity responsible for applying the law and we will be available to investigate and find out who’s behind harming Saada’s citizens. The conference is going be neutral and also is going to be honest with no hesitation. We will form field committees to sustain peace.

Q: What will the conference impose on the Houthis and the government specifically?

With the public influence and the public base, Houthis will be neglected if not committed to their obligations, likewise the government – because there is no government without a nation.

Q: In case the two sides do not commit to their obligations, what recourse will the conference have?

We will face these cases with all the means provided by the law, and through demonstrations, conferences, banners, and gatherings among the citizens of Saada to force the government or the Houthis to sustain peace.

Q: Is there any party that benefits from war in Sadaa and from its reemergence?

There isn’t any side which will benefit from the war, and whoever thinks this way should be considered a traitor because the blood which is shed is Yemeni blood.

Q: Do you expect a seventh war?

No; it is difficult to imagine, because Saada citizens will not allow any other wars since they are the victims.

Q: Are you for the idea of imposing the government’s authority, even if it invalidates the role of regulations, the law, and the constitution?

Peace should exist under the government’s law, and the constitution should actually be applied.  The government does not belong to any one person specifically and it is being entrusted by the nation to fairly and equally apply the law.

Q: What is the pertinence of the tribal political leader Fares Manaa?

I was a member of Motamar party and after we suffered from the war my mission is only peace of and security of Yemen

Q: What do you think of the authorities’ arrest of members of the press and preventing them from covering the conference?

I think it is an unconstitutional and illegal violation by the government.

Q: What do you think of this procedure?

I don’t think the authority is against sustaining peace, and I am calling for the punishment those who have violated laws – an act which ruins the authorities’ reputation.

Q: Is there any connection between you and the “Saada Citizens Forum“ which the president of the National Council Hussein al-Ahmar called an independent entity controlled by the tribal leaders, which proceeded the announcement of your organization?

No, there is no connection.  The two conferences were convened by different people, using different methods and approaches to solving the same problem.

Q: How do you assess the current situation of Yemen?

It is tense in all ways.

Q: And the solutions?

Solutions require serious discussion which includes all organizations, parties, groups, and sides in order to adequately correct all the previous mistakes and to apply the law, actually and not just in words.

Q: What do you call for through this meeting?

I’m calling for people to stand up, support, and sustain peace with all the available means and focus on resolving outstanding issues as well as reconstructing what the war has ruined.  Also, I call international organizations, contributors, benefactors, and advocates to support it and assist it with all possible means and to contribute toward reconstruction and bringing all those displaced back to their homes.