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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

Guterres: UN contacts do not give Houthis legitimacy

UN General Assembly 2018: UN chief addresses controversy over medical evacuation deal between rebels and humanitarian envoy

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke to the press ahead of the 73rd UN General Assembly. AP Photo
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke to the press ahead of the 73rd UN General Assembly. AP Photo

Dealings between UN officials and Houthi rebels does not amount to granting them legitimacy by the United Nations, the head of the global body said.

“Humanitarian action is necessary, but this doesn’t mean at all the recognition of a Houthi camp, and it doesn’t change at all our policy to recognise only one government,” Secretary General Antonio Guterres told a press briefing at the UN headquarters in New York.

Mr Guterres was responding to a question about the Yemeni government's protest to the UN over a deal signed by its humanitarian coordinator with the Houthis to fly patients out of the rebel-held capital for treatment.

Officials in Yemen fear that the rebels would use these flights to smuggle fighters from Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah and other allies out of the country. The government said it would not recognise the agreement, which was reached without its knowledge.

Mr Guterres also called on all parties in Yemen to reconvene and aim for a political agreement following the recent failure to resume peace talks in Geneva, which the Iran-backed Houthis failed to attend.

“We are all aware of the difficulties encountered by my special envoy and his tireless efforts to create conditions for dialogue and a political process,” he said.

Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy for Yemen, met rebel leaders earlier this week as well as various factions in the country to ensure their commitment to peace.

Addressing wider issues ahead of the UN General Assembly next week, Mr Guterres warned that multilateralism in dealing with global problems was under threat.

“Multilateralism is under attack from many different directions, precisely when we need it most, I will use my meetings and other opportunities next week to press renewed commitments to global order and the United Nations,” he said.

He said the participation of 84 heads of state and 44 heads of government in the annual gathering showed the UN was still “the world’s indispensable forum for international co-operation”.

US President Donald Trump, who address the General Assembly on Tuesday, has made moves to withdraw from international co-operation and has cut contributions to the UN, creating a 5 per cent drop in its budget for next year.

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The secretary general said that despite US cutting funding to UNRWA, the Palestinian refugee agency had kept its schools open and seek alternative funding for them during the year.

The General Assembly will begin on Monday with the launch of new initiatives called Youth 2030 and Generation Unlimited to provide young people with quality education, decent jobs and a voice in decision-making.

“This is crucial to their well being and their countries' development. It will also contribute to preventing deradicalisation,” Mr Guterres said.

The UN youth envoy, Jayathma Wickramanayake, said she was working with the secretary general to promote young people in politics.

“We are trying to change the idea that youth are dangerous, or out of place in government, we want to give them more engagement in politics,” she told The National.

Mr Guterres touched on a few promising global developments in his briefing, in particular the end of decades of hostility between Eritrea and Ethiopia, whose leaders signed a peace accord on September 16 at a ceremony in the Saudi city of Jeddah that was attended by the UN chief.

"The presidents of Djibouti and Eritrea subsequently launched in Jeddah a dialogue for peace as well. And last week’s signing of a peace agreement on South Sudan ... is a further step in the right direction for the region and beyond," Mr Guterres said.