UN Yemen envoy expected in Riyadh on peace push

AFP , Monday 26 Nov 2018

Martin Griffiths
U.N. envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths is seen during his departure at Sanaa airport, Yemen November 24, 2018 (Photo: Reuters)

The United Nations' Yemen envoy is expected in Riyadh on Monday as part of efforts to kick-start peace talks next month between Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed government.

Martin Griffiths's visit comes as a tenuous calm settles over Hodeida, a vital lifeline for imports and aid which had seen fierce clashes in a renewed offensive by a Saudi-led military coalition to seize the rebel-held port city.

Under heavy international pressure, the Yemeni government and the coalition have largely suspended their five-month offensive against Hodeida.

The UN said the envoy, who also visited the Red Sea city last week to assess the humanitarian situation, is due to hold talks with Yemen's internationally recognised government in Riyadh on Monday.

Griffiths is scheduled to meet Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, Vice President Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar and Foreign Minister Khalid al-Yamani, a Saudi government source told AFP.

Fighting in Hodeida intensified in early November as coalition-backed loyalist forces attempted to enter the city, but calm returned after Griffiths arrived in Yemen on Wednesday.

Griffiths, who is spearheading efforts to hold peace talks in Sweden in December, has urged the warring parties to "keep the peace" in Hodeida.

While the loyalist advance there has largely stalled, minor clashes have continued.

Military officials quoted by the state-run Saba news agency on Sunday evening said the loyalists foiled a Houthi "infiltration attempt" into a camp in Hays province, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Hodeida.

The rebels said they had detonated an explosive device near the eastern entrance of Hodeida, "destroying a (pro-government) military vehicle... killing and wounding soldiers inside", Houthi-run Al-Masirah reported on Monday.

Loyalists did not confirm the attack.

But pro-government military officials told AFP Monday that their operations in the east and south of the Red Sea city had been suspended.

- Desperately needed respite -
President Hadi -- whose UN-recognised government was pushed out of Sanaa by the rebels in 2014 -- has said he supports the talks but has vowed to "liberate" Hodeida.

According to the World Health Organization, nearly 10,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led intervention began, though some rights groups estimate the toll could be five times higher.

Humanitarian organisations are desperate to see the current peace push translate into a more permanent halt to the conflict.

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

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.

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

The current effort by Griffiths is the biggest push for a peace deal in Yemen in two years.

In September, a previous round of UN-led peace talks faltered when the Houthis 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.

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