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UN envoy warns 'substantial progress' needed in Yemen before more peace talks

Griffiths briefed the UN Security Council after a round of shuttle diplomacy. [AFP]

Date of publication: 9 January, 2019

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UN envoy Martin Griffiths briefed the Security Council after new talks in the region including meetings with Houthi rebel leaders, and President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi in Riyadh.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths warned on Wednesday that "substantial progress" was needed to advance peace efforts in Yemen before new talks can be held on ending the devastating war.

Addressing the Security Council, Griffiths said he was still "hopeful" that negotiations to follow up on a ceasefire deal reached last month in Sweden will be held "in the near future."

The Saudi-backed government and Houthi rebels agreed during talks in Stockholm to a ceasefire in Hodeida, the rebel-held port city that is a key entry point for humanitarian aid to Yemen.

The breakthrough buoyed hopes of an end to the conflict, but the envoy's statement underscored that the diplomatic gains toward peace were fragile and the pace of progress slower than anticipated. 

"Both sides have largely adhered to the ceasefire and there has been a significant decrease in hostilities," Griffiths told the council by video-conference from Amman.

Talks are ongoing on a redeployment of forces from Hodeida, providing security in the city and opening up access routes to allow humanitarian convoys to reach millions in dire need of food aid, he added.

A meeting will be held in Amman next week to follow up on an agreed prisoner swap that could pave the way to an airlift of "many, many thousands" of detainees from both sides.

"It is my view and it is shared by the leadership of both parties, but also others, that substantial progress, particularly on Hodeida of course, is something that we would like to see before we reconvene the next consultations," said Griffiths.

Griffiths briefed the Security Council after a round of shuttle diplomacy in the region including talks with rebel leaders in Sanaa and President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi in Riyadh on shoring up the ceasefire deal.

Yemenis hungrier, sicker

The United Nations is working to schedule a new round of talks, possibly in Kuwait, to build on the Stockholm agreement and advance toward a final deal to end the conflict.

The war between the Houthis and troops loyal to the government escalated in March 2015, when President Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia and the Riyadh-led coalition intervened.

The conflict has unleashed the world's worst humanitarian crisis, according to the UN, which says 80 percent of the population - 24 million people - are in need of aid.  

Nearly 10 million people are just one step away from famine, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock told the council.

"Millions of Yemenis are hungrier, sicker and more vulnerable than a year ago," said Lowcock, who stressed that while the political process was important "it does not in itself feed a single starving child."

The Security Council is considering the creation of a new observer mission to Yemen to monitor the ceasefire in Hodeida, oversee the pullback of forces and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has proposed the deployment of up to 75 observers to Yemen for an initial period of six months to shore up the ceasefire while talks on a broader peace deal are held.

An advance team of about 16 international monitors, led by Dutch general Patrick Cammaert, has been deployed in Yemen, under a resolution adopted last month that endorsed the Stockholm agreement.

The council is expected to decide on setting up the new mission, which would be led by Cammaert, before the mandate of that advance team expires on January 20. 

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