UN chief endorses Saudi Arabia’s peace plan for Yemen

Antonio Guterres calls on all sides to conflict to work together to end the suffering of Yemenis

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 4, 2020, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press briefing at United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Millions of people around the world risk dying of hunger and the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change are increasing the threat, Guterres said on March 11, 2021.  / AFP / Angela Weiss
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The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged Yemen’s warring sides to “seize” an opportunity for peace presented by Saudi Arabia that aims to end the war.

A peace plan was presented by the kingdom on Sunday that called for a nationwide ceasefire, the reopening of Sanaa airport to selected destinations, the resumption of talks between Yemen’s warring sides, allowing additional fuel and commodities to enter Hodeidah port and supporting efforts of reconstruction and aid to the country.

“The Secretary General urges the parties to seize this opportunity and work with his Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, on the way forward in good faith and without preconditions,” according to a statement from the UN chief.

“He reiterates that all actors and stakeholders must do their utmost to facilitate an immediate agreement that brings Yemen back to a path towards peace,” said the statement.

Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Houthis ousted the internationally recognised government in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.

Mr Guterres expresses his thanks to the kingdom for its support for the United Nations efforts, said the statement.

Saudi Arabia’s peace plan was welcomed by the international community, who urged all sides to work towards ending the six-year conflict.

But the Houthi rebels appeared to reject the proposal almost immediately, saying it would not countenance talks until Saudi Arabia brings its military campaign to a complete halt.

UN efforts to mediate an end to the conflict looked hopeful in December 2018, with an agreement reached in Stockholm for ceasefires in the port city of Hodeidah and two other ports, Salif and Ras Issa, and a successful prisoner exchange.

However, major delays caused by the Houthis arguing over the detail of the agreement have prevented major aspects being implemented.

Some elements of Saudi Arabia’s new plan were already agreed in Stockholm

"What practically needs to happen next is that the parties discuss and agree on these elements," a UN official told The National.

Discussions with the parties, including the Houthis, continue and international as well as regional efforts also continue, said the official.

As the conflict in Yemen enters its seventh year, Yemenis continue to face a dire humanitarian situation, including the prospect of a large-scale famine, while a significant funding gap remains.

“Underlining that the needs of the Yemeni people must be put above any other considerations, the Secretary General calls for fuel ships to be urgently allowed into the port of Hodeidah and for the removal of obstacles to domestic distribution,” said the UN statement.

Saudi Arabia's plan also stipulates that taxes and fees from Hodeidah port be put into a joint account in Yemen’s Central Bank that both the government and the Iranian-backed rebels would be able to access.