Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

UN envoy aims to bolster Yemen truce as rivals wind up Hodeidah talks

Parties discussed progress in implementing the Stockholm agreement

The UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths arrives in Hodeidah for a meeting with Houthi officials in January. AFP 
The UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths arrives in Hodeidah for a meeting with Houthi officials in January. AFP 

The UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths said on Monday he had held productive talks with the Saudi deputy defence minister to strengthen a ceasefire agreement.

“We discussed how to keep Yemen out of the regional tensions, make progress in the implementation of the Stockholm agreement and support to the peace process,” Mr Griffiths wrote on Twitter.

The meeting with Prince Khalid bin Salman came as representatives from Yemen’s government and Iran-aligned Houthi rebels held talks on a UN vessel off the Yemeni coast to try to ease tensions.

The hard-won truce agreement reached late last year in Sweden called on the government and the rebels to pull forces out of the key port of Hodeidah and parts of the city.

It was supposed to have taken place two weeks after the truce went into force on December 18 but the deadline was missed.

In May, the UN announced the rebels had withdrawn from Hodeidah and two nearby ports, the first practical step since the ceasefire deal.

But the government accused the militia of faking the withdrawal, saying it had merely handed control to allies.

On Monday, at the end of two days of talks, their first since February, a committee set up under the Sweden accord said it had agreed on “a mechanism and new measures to reinforce the ceasefire”.

It would be put in place as soon as possible with support from the UN, which is part of the committee along with representatives of the Yemeni government and Houthis.

In New York, the UN Security Council voted unanimously on Monday to extend its ceasefire observation mission in Hodeidah by six months, until January 15.

It also called on Secretary General Antonio Guterres to urgently send a full contingent of observers for the mission, which is mandated to have 75 staff but only has 20 there.

The UN is hoping that a de-escalation in Hodeidah will allow desperately needed food and medical aid to reach millions in need in Yemen.

The Red Sea port is the entry point for most imported goods and relief aid to Yemen, which the UN has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

On Monday, Mr Griffiths also travelled to Riyadh to meet Yemen’s President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, their first encounter since Mr Hadi accused him in May of siding with the Houthi rebels.

“I just concluded a meeting with President Hadi. I am grateful to him and his government’s commitment to the Stockholm agreement and his personal support to finding a political solution to the conflict in Yemen,” he tweeted.

In May, Mr Hadi took issue with Mr Griffiths over the rebel handover of Hodeidah ports and fired off a letter to UN chief Mr Guterres saying he “can no longer accept these offences” by the UN envoy.

The Yemen conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since March 2015, the World Health Organisation said.

Fighting has also displaced millions and left 24.1 million – more than two thirds of the population – in need of aid.

The Sweden deal has come under further strain as the Houthis escalate drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabian cities.

On Monday night, the coalition said it shot down two drones launched by Houthi rebels at Khamis Mushait, in the kingdom’s south-west.

There were no casualties, only “minor damage” to a residential building and some vehicles from falling shrapnel and debris, the coalition said.

Saudi Arabia has long accused Iran of arming the rebels.

Updated: July 16, 2019 09:05 AM

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