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UN prepares ground for Yemen peace talks as battles flare

AFP , Tuesday 20 Nov 2018
United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths (Reuters)
United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths (Reuters)
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UN envoy Martin Griffiths was preparing Tuesday to head to war-torn Yemen to lay the groundwork for peace talks in Sweden, after fresh fighting shook the flashpoint city of Hodeida.

Griffiths -- whose efforts at kickstarting peace talks failed in September -- is again trying to get the Houthi rebels and the government to the negotiating table by the end of the year.

He is expected to meet with Houthi officials in the capital Sanaa on Wednesday.

Both sides have in the past week expressed their support for the envoy and his mission to hold talks in Stockholm, but fierce clashes erupted in the Red Sea city of Hodeida late Monday after a lull.

Military officials said that the battles were the worst since loyalists halted an offensive last week, and were concentrated in the eastern part of the city where rebels fired artillery.

Pro-government forces struck back, supported by warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition which launched a dozen raids, the sources said.

According to Houthi-run media, clashes lasted up to four hours and resulted in fatalities.

The city was relatively calm on Tuesday morning, according to an AFP correspondent who spoke to residents by telephone from Khokha about 100 kilometres (62 miles) away.

Call for truce

On Monday, Britain presented to the UN Security Council a draft resolution urging an immediate truce in Hodeida city, whose port serves as an entry point to nearly all imports and humanitarian aid to the impoverished country.

The draft, circulated by Britain to the 14 other council members and seen by AFP, sets a two-week deadline for the warring sides to remove all barriers to humanitarian aid.

The proposed resolution would significantly ratchet up pressure on the Saudi-led coalition and the Huthis to seek a negotiated settlement in Yemen, where millions are on the brink of starvation.

It also calls for a large injection of foreign currency into the economy to support Yemen's collapsing currency and for salaries of civil servants, teachers, and health workers to be paid within a month.

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, head of the Houthi rebels' Higher Revolutionary Committee and an influential political figure, tweeted on Monday that he wanted his group to announce "readiness to suspend and halt all military operations" and stop firing missiles on Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia also lent its support to new talks.

Saudi King Salman told the Shura Council, his country's top advisory body, that Riyadh also backed a "political solution" and a "comprehensive national dialogue" in Yemen.

Multiple past attempts to hold negotiations between the government alliance and Houthis have failed.

Griffiths said on Monday he hoped the rivals would meet in Sweden "within the next few weeks". No date has yet been set.

The Houthis have controlled Yemen's capital Sanaa since capturing it in late 2014, when they also took control of Hodeida and its port.

A year later, Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in the war to bolster Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

The World Health Organization says nearly 10,000 people -- mostly civilians -- have been killed in Yemen since the Saudi intervention in March 2015, but rights groups believe the toll may be five times higher.

The war in Yemen -- already one of the world's most impoverished countries -- has left the nation on the edge of mass starvation.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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