UN envoy lands in Yemen to push for peace talks

UN envoy lands in Yemen to push for peace talks
Martin Griffiths is aiming to make the biggest peace push in two years as fears of widespread famine stalk the country.
2 min read
21 November, 2018
The UN envoy flew into the Yemen capital Sanaa on Wednesday [Getty]

The UN Yemen envoy flew into the rebel-held capital Sanaa Wednesday to push for fresh peace talks following fierce fighting for the lifeline port of Hodeida that has ramped up fears of widespread famine.

Under heavy Western pressure, the government and its Saudi-led military backers have largely suspended a five-month-old offensive on the Red Sea port city as UN envoy Martin Griffiths makes the biggest peace push in two years.

But Hodeida residents reported clashes just hours ahead of Griffiths' arrival and a devastating all-out assault still threatens as the coalition eyes a key victory in its war with Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

UN agencies say up to 14 million Yemenis are at risk of starvation if Hodeida port is closed by fighting or damage.

The city is virtually the sole gateway to the capital and rebel-held territory, and some 80 percent of commercial food imports and virtually all UN-supervised humanitarian aid pass through its docks.

Griffiths - who has said he wants Yemen's rivals to meet within weeks in Sweden - did not comment to reporters on his arrival at Sanaa airport.

He was expected to hold talks with rebel political leaders as he attempts to revive a peace process that collapsed in acrimony in Switzerland in September when the rebels failed to show up.

The Houthis have said repeatedly that they need stronger security guarantees from the international community that they will be given safe passage through the crippling air and sea blockade the Saudi-led coalition has enforced since March 2015.

The international community is demanding in return that the rebels halt all offensive operations, particularly missile attacks on neighbouring Saudi Arabia, and commit to joining talks on handing over of the port of Hodeida to UN control.

"Griffiths faces the sternest test of his young tenure," Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group told AFP.

"If his mediation efforts succeed in preventing a destructive battle for Hodeida, he could build momentum toward reviving a peace process."

Both warring sides have in the past week expressed support for the envoy's mission to convene new talks, but fierce clashes flared again in Hodeida late Tuesday. 

On Wednesday, charity Save the Children said an estimated 85,000 children under age 5 may have died of hunger and disease since the outbreak of Yemen's civil war in 2015.

More than 22 million people - three quarters of the population - now depend on humanitarian assistance to survive.

Follow us on Twitter: @The_NewArab