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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

UN envoy 'concerned' by fate of Yemen's rebel-held Al Hodeidah port

Martin Griffiths said his talks with the government and Houthis was 'positive'

UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths is escorted by bodyguards during his departure at Sanaa airport in Sanaa, Yemen, on June 5, 2018. Khaled Abdullah / Reuters
UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths is escorted by bodyguards during his departure at Sanaa airport in Sanaa, Yemen, on June 5, 2018. Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths said on Tuesday he was “very concerned” about fighting over the rebel-held port city of Al Hodeidah, as he wrapped up a three-day visit to the country.

Mr Griffiths was in Yemen to try to revive talks between the internationally recognised government and the Houthi rebels.

"Apart from the avoidable humanitarian consequences of such a battle, I am also very concerned about the impact on chances of a political settlement of this conflict," he said in the rebel-controlled capital of Sanaa.

Mr Griffiths, who met Houthi and General People’s Congress officials, said that his talks had been “positive” and that he would discuss them with the UN Security Council on June 18.

The UN envoy met Mahdi Al Mashat, head of the Houthis' political council, and representatives of the GPC, which was founded by former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was killed by the rebels in December.

From 2014, Saleh was allied with the Houthis in the fight against the government but he shifted allegiances and was later killed.

"My aim is to restart negotiations that have not taken place for a very long time, for too long, and I want that to restart in the very near future," he said.

Mr Griffiths called for a de-escalation of violence to pave the way for a real peace process.

"I am determined to advance the peace process because every day that goes by innocent Yemenis die. There are many urgent issues in Yemen that must be addressed, including the humanitarian situation and the continued closure of Sanaa airport to commercial flights. I urge the parties to work toward opening the airport to commercial traffic," he said.

"We are working hard to get moving on the political process and aim to restart negotiations in the near future. In this regard, I urge the Yemeni parties to create a conducive environment to restart the political process and de-escalate violence.”

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Several rounds of UN-brokered talks between the rebels and the government have failed to find a solution to the war in Yemen. The international body recognises Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi’s cabinet as the legitimate ruling body.

Analysts remain sceptical of the Houthis’ intentions, and say the rebel group has no interest in the negotiating table.

“The Houthis usually take advantages of any ceasefire to consolidate their ranks on the battle fronts,” Yaser Al Yafeaee, a journalist and political analyst, told The National.

According to Yemeni political sources, Mr Griffiths has been in talks with the rebels to hand control of Al Hodeidah port to the UN as international forces close in to try and recapture the city. There has been no indication that Mr Griffiths's bid has so far been successful.

"I expect the battle to restore the port city of Al Hodiedah to flare up at any time because the Houthis wouldn't hand the city over to the UN. They try to show that they support peace efforts but when words come to turn into action, they ignore everything they pledged."

The UN has warned that any operation to seize Al Hodeidah would disrupt the entry of aid shipments to the country, 70 per cent of which flow through the port. There are also reports that the facility is used to smuggle Iranian weapons to the rebels.

The Al Hodeidah offensive is being led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which are part of an Arab coalition that intervened in the Yemen war in March 2015 at the request of Mr Hadi’s government.

Col Turki Al Malki, the spokesman for the alliance, said on Tuesday that government forces were only nine kilometres from Al Hodeidah.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in the three years of fighting and pushed the country to the brink of famine.

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