British diplomat visits battleground city in build-up to peace talks
Martin Griffiths proposes UN operation of Yemen's Hodeidah port
The UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths raised the issue of UN control of operations at Hodeidah's port during a visit to the city on Friday to urge calm ahead of planned talks to end the country's civil war.
Mr Griffiths's visit was intended to send a message to the Houthi rebels who control Hodeidah and the government forces who have been trying to retake the Red Sea city to halt their fighting in the run-up to the talks in Sweden, a UN source was quoted as saying.
The UN envoy met with the management of rebel-held port, an important supply line to the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa and the entry point for most of Yemen's food imports and humanitarian aid.
"I am here to tell you today that we have agreed that the UN should now pursue actively and urgently detailed negotiations for a leading UN role in the Port and more broadly," he said after talks with rebel leaders. "We believe that such a role will preserve the essential humanitarian pipeline that starts here and serves the people of Yemen.
"We hope that it will also contribute to international efforts to increase the capacity and effectiveness of port operations."
UN spokesman Rheal LeBlanc told reporters earlier in Geneva that Mr Griffiths had specific ideas about managing the port that he would present to the parties to the conflict.
The aim was to "protect the port itself from potential destruction, and preserve the main humanitarian pipeline to the people of Yemen", Mr LeBlanc said.
Mr Griffiths' visit to Hodeidah was delayed by security concerns but all front lines in the city were calm on Friday, pro-government fighters told The National.
Dr Khaled Atiya at Al Thawra hospital, the main medical facility in Hodeidah, told The National that Mr Griffiths' scheduled to visit there had been cancelled.
The hospital was damaged in recent fighting between the Iran-backed Houthis and government forces supported by the Arab military coalition, in which Saudi Arabia and the UAE play leading roles.
A draft UN resolution submitted to the UN Security Council by Britain on Monday called for a ceasefire in Hodeidah along with steps to relaunch peace talks and ensure the flow of humanitarian aid in Yemen.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed on Wednesday declared the UAE's support for talks to end the war in Yemen, a position reiterated by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash on Friday.
"The UAE as part of Coalition committed to upcoming Yemen peace talks in Sweden," Dr Gargash said on Twitter. "Speaking to counterparts, we welcome growing consensus that in order to constructively support these talks, any new UNSC resolution needs to be used at the right time.
"The best way forward towards a sustainable political process is to support the Sweden talks and the work of the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffith without prejudging these negotiations," he said.
As momentum builds for new UN-sponsored peace talks, a new report argued that stopping the fighting in Yemen was the only way to prevent a historic famine.
The report released this week by International Crisis Group, a conflict monitoring NGO headquartered in Brussels, said the rebels in Hodeidah faced a decision between withdrawing or fighting a battle that would cause a humanitarian catastrophe.
“They have a clear choice between agreeing to a negotiated exit from the port and joining a battle that would prove devastating to millions of people in territories currently under their control,” the report said.
More three years of fighting have left 8 million Yemenis facing severe food shortages. UN officials say that 14 million people, or half the population, are at risk of famine.
A World Health Organisation spokesman said on Friday that almost half of Yemen's children were chronically malnourished. "Thousands of under-nourished people are dying of diarrhoea, pneumonia and measles," Christian Lindmeier added.
Also on Friday, the UN's World Food Programme said it had completed food distribution to 180,000 people, or about 30,000 families, in Hodeidah city.