UN 'frustrated' at stagnant Yemen peace process despite pressure

Envoy Martin Griffiths says there is 'extraordinary diplomatic consensus' to end the war

UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths speaks during a press conference at Sanaa's international airport in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on May 31, 2021. / AFP / MOHAMMED HUWAIS
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The UN envoy to Yemen has expressed frustration at the stagnant peace process as international pressure mounts on the warring sides to reach an agreement to end the war.

Martin Griffiths concluded a round of talks in Saudi Arabia, which is hosting members of Yemen’s internationally recognised government, and in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, which the Houthi rebels seized after ousting the government in 2015.

“Nobody can be more frustrated than I am," Mr Griffiths said in rebel-held Sanaa on Monday night.

“We have spent a year and a half on things that are relatively simple to describe – the ceasefire, the opening of Sanaa Airport, the opening of Hodeidah ports, the much-delayed start of the political negotiations."

He was speaking after meeting Houthi officials in the capital without announcing any breakthrough.

Yemen’s six-year-long war started when the Iran-backed rebels stormed the capital in 2014, saying they were fighting a corrupt system and foreign meddling.

A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened the following year at the request of the government to help retake the country from the Iran backed group.

"Throughout the process we have suggested several ways to bridge the gap between the parties," Mr Griffiths said.

Fighters from a Saudi-backed Sudanese-Yemeni military force battling Huthi rebels are pictured on May 23, 2021 near the border with Saudi Arabia in Yemen's northern coastal town of Midi, located in conflict-ridden Hajjah governorate. - Yemen's conflict since 2014, pitting the Iran-backed Huthis against the government supported by a Saudi-led military coalition, has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed millions to the brink of famine. (Photo by Mohammed al-WAFI / AFP)

International efforts have been increasing to reach a peace deal in Yemen after talks between officials from Iran and Saudi Arabia last month.

It was their first high-level meeting in Baghdad since Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Tehran in 2016.

"There's an extraordinary amount of diplomatic consensus ... there is a real diplomatic energy now, which hasn't always been the case," Mr Griffiths said.

The rebels are demanding the reopening of Sanaa airport before a ceasefire deal as the UN and Washington push for an end to the war.

"All of our proposals have also guaranteed the reopening of this airport where we are speaking today, Sanaa airport," Mr Griffiths said.

He earlier held talks with Yemeni and Saudi officials in Saudi Arabia and Oman in an attempt to get backing to reopen Sanaa airport, ensure an uninterrupted flow of fuel and commodities through Hodeidah ports, and relaunch the political process.

Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi said on Monday that the Iran-backed rebels have yet to uphold their end of a deal over Hodeidah, which was reached in Sweden in 2018.

“The rebels and those supporting them do not believe in peace,” Mr Hadi told Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde and envoy to Yemen Peter Semneby in Riyadh.

“The Houthis have not implemented the Stockholm Agreement but have taken advantage of the truce to destabilise international maritime system by setting booby-trapped boats, and other violations."

Sweden hosted peace talks in Stockholm in late 2018 that led to a deal based on confidence-building measures that would pave the way towards a political solution to end the conflict.

The deal halted the government offensive to capture Hodeidah from the rebels.

In exchange, all sides would pull their forces from the city of more than 1 million people and hand over operations of the vital ports to a neutral local force under the oversight of UN agencies.

More than 70 per cent of Yemen's imported goods and most humanitarian aid enters through Hodeidah.

While the offensive was called off after the deal and troops were pulled back after some brief skirmishes, the rebels have yet to hand over the ports or implement other aspects of the deal.

The government says the rebels have used the pull-back to send troops to other front lines. They say this has led to a sharp rise in fighting elsewhere in Yemen.

Mr Hadi said efforts made to reach a peace deal have been rejected by the rebels.