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UN envoy pushing for 'virtual' Yemen ceasefire talks before coronavirus hits

A graveyard for Yemen's war victims in Sanaa [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 April, 2020

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The UN envoy to Yemen is attempting to get warring parties into 'virtual' negotiations to deliver a ceasefire that may curb the impact of Covid-19 on the impoverished nation.
The UN envoy to Yemen said Thursday he was engaged in talks with the country's warring parties to secure a nationwide ceasefire to help counter the threat of the coronavirus.

Martin Griffiths' office said he is discussing "concrete steps" with the warring sides despite a recent escalation in the long conflict.

Yemen has so far not recorded any case of Covid-19, but aid groups are concerned that when or if it does hit, the impact will be catastrophic for a country already facing what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Griffiths is in daily consultations aimed at bringing the warring sides together in "virtual" negotiations as soon as possible, a statement from his office said.

"I hope that these consultations can be soon completed and deliver what Yemenis expect, demand and deserve," it quoted the envoy as saying.

The United Nations has issued a global call for armed groups to stand down during the pandemic.

The Yemen government and Houthi rebels had responded positively to the appeal, together with Saudi Arabia which leads a military coalition that supports the government.

However, last week Saudi air defences intercepted ballistic missiles fired by the Iran-aligned Houthis over Riyadh and Jizan, a city on the Yemen border. Two civilians were wounded in the curfew-locked Saudi capital.

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However the Houthi-run Al-Masirah television reported that the 19 strikes targeted military bases and a military academy.Yemen's government condemned the attack, which it said undermined efforts to scale down the five-year conflict.

The Saudi-led coalition retaliated with multiple air strikes on Yemen's rebel-held capital Sanaa which it claimed to be targeting Houthi ballistic missile sites.

Griffiths said he was in regular contact with both parties "on reaching agreements on a nationwide ceasefire, humanitarian and economic measures to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people".

Yemen in Focus: Houthi attack on Riyadh a 'bargaining chip' amid ongoing talks

"This process further aims to foster joint efforts to counter the threat of COVID-19," the statement said.

Saudi Arabia is also scrambling to limit the spread of the disease at home and its health ministry has reported 1,720 coronavirus infections and 16 deaths from the illness so far.

Tens of thousands of Yemenis has been killed in more than five years of fighting that has devastated the impoverished Arab nation. 

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