UN envoy to Yemen urges peace on visit to Hodeida

Mohamed Al-Sayaghi, Reuters | UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths arrives at Sanaa airport, Yemen on November 21, 2018.

The UN envoy to Yemen on Friday urged warring sides to "keep the peace" in Hodeida, saying the rebels agreed to talks on the UN taking a leading role in running the lifeline port.


Griffiths, who started a Yemen peace mission in rebel-held Sanaa on Wednesday, said he has discussed with Huthi rebel officials "how the UN could contribute to keeping the peace" in the key port city of Hodeida.

"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 told reporters during his first visit to Hodeida.

"We believe that such a role will preserve the essential humanitarian pipeline that starts here and serves the people of Yemen."

Griffiths urged Yemen's warring parties to "keep the peace" in the rebel-held Red Sea port city, which serves as the entry point of nearly all imports and humanitarian aid into the impoverished country.

"The attention of the world is on Hodeida. Leaders from every country have called for us all to keep the peace in Hodeida," he said.

Griffiths was in the country ahead of planned peace talks in Sweden in December between the Iran-aligned Huthi rebels and pro-government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition.

According to an AFP correspondent, clashes could be heard in the distance as the envoy visited the lifeline port.

Griffiths met rebel chief Abdulmalik al-Huthi and addressed "what can facilitate new discussions in December", rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdelsalam said on Thursday.

Abdelsalam said that included "procedures needed to transport injured and sick for treatment abroad and bring them back", a key sticking point during a previous failed attempt at talks in September.

Both warring sides have expressed support for the envoy's mission to hold discussions.

'Committed' to peace talks

The UAE state minister for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, whose country is a key player in the Saudi-led coalition, reiterated Friday that the United Arab Emirates was "committed" to peace talks.

"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 on Twitter.

Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi -- whose UN-recognised government was pushed out of Sanaa by the rebels in 2014 -- has also said he supports the talks while vowing to "liberate" the city of Hodeida.

Despite a lull in fighting, Hodeida residents reached by telephone said on Friday that Huthi rebels have been bringing in reinforcements.

Dozens of families have fled Hodeida, as the rebels stationed snipers on top of peoples' homes, according to residents and pro-government military officials.

The conflict in Yemen, which escalated when the Saudi-led alliance intervened in 2015, has killed thousands and left up to 22 million Yemenis in need of humanitarian assistance, according to UN agencies.

'Bursts of fighting'

Under heavy international pressure, the loyalists and their Saudi-led military backers have largely suspended a five-month offensive on Hodeida.

Humanitarian organisations are desperate to see the current peace push translate into a more permanent halt to the four-year war.

The UN's World Food Programme said Friday it had distributed 30,000 food baskets -- each containing enough to feed a family of six for one month -- in Hodeida city.

"In a city that has been enduring on and off bursts of fighting, these food baskets have an added benefit of helping families to avoid travelling more than necessary to find food, limiting their own security risks," WFP said in a statement.

"Despite the difficult situation, WFP is currently assisting eight million Yemenis every month with food or food vouchers."

UN agencies say 14 million Yemenis are at risk of starvation and the closure of Hodeida port would further exacerbate the humanitarian crisis.

The heads of the UN's humanitarian and children's agencies said the "recent de-escalation in fighting in Hodeida is providing a desperately needed respite to hundreds of thousands of civilians".

The current peace push by Griffiths is the biggest effort in two years.

In September, a previous round of UN-led peace talks faltered when the Huthis refused to travel to Geneva, accusing the world body of failing to guarantee their delegation's return to Sanaa or secure the evacuation of wounded rebels to Oman.

Previous talks broke down in 2016, when 108 days of negotiations in Kuwait failed to yield a deal and left rebel delegates stranded in Oman for three months.

According to the World Health Organization, nearly 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen's conflict, though some rights groups estimate the toll could be five times higher.


Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning