Yemen rivals conclude talks to reopen roads around besieged Taez

UN special envoy Hans Grundberg says it is 'promising' that the parties met face-to-face to discuss road openings

Road construction in the mountains near Taez. A two-month UN-brokered truce began in Yemen on April 2. AFP
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The UN’s special envoy to Yemen said initial talks between the government and rebels on reopening roads around the besieged city of Taez were “promising” and he hoped the rivals could reach an agreement.

Representatives from the internationally recognised government and the Iran-backed Houthi rebel group met face-to-face in the Jordanian capital, Amman, on Wednesday to discuss ending the rebel siege of Yemen's third-largest city.

A proposal for the phased reopening of roads, including safety guarantees for civilians, was drawn up in three days of discussions on options presented by both sides in the conflict.

“I now call on the parties to conclude their internal deliberations urgently and deliver positive results to the Yemeni people,” UN envoy Hans Grundberg said on Saturday after announcing that the initial discussions had concluded.

Taez, which has a population of roughly 600,000 people and lies in Yemen's mountainous south-west, has been largely cut off from the world since 2015, when the rebels closed the main routes into the city.

Restoring access to the city was one of the conditions of a two-month truce brokered by Mr Grundberg, along with the exchange of prisoners and the resumption of civilian flights out of Sanaa, the rebel-held capital.

“Lifting restrictions on the freedom of movement of people and goods will not only have a positive impact on alleviating the suffering of the Yemeni people and reviving the economy, but will also help cultivate confidence in the political process,” Mr Grundberg said.

Civil sector groups and local mediators, many from Taez, took part in the discussions and offered expertise to help open the roads.

“The role of civil society in those discussions proved to be indispensable, as they offered a compass to all those involved, including the UN, for prioritising the interests and lived experiences of Yemeni women, men and children,” Mr Grundberg said.

An official close to the talks told The National that the delegations had reached some agreements and now the “decision lies with the leaderships”.

Government officials have said lifting the siege is central to any hopes of extending the UN-brokered truce.

“Taez is the most important element for us right now. We need to ensure that all blockades have been lifted before we can extend the ceasefire,” Hamzah Al Kamaly, Yemen's deputy minister of youth, said last week.

The Houthis seized Taez early in the civil war that broke out after they overran Sanaa and the government relocated to the southern port city of Aden. In 2015, a Saudi-backed coalition intervened in the conflict at the request of the government.

Government forces, allied tribes and other rival factions opposing the Houthis have gained a foothold in the city centre.

However, the Houthis have entrenched themselves over the years mainly in the east and north, areas that are home to trade routes and industrial installations.

Marwan Ali Noman, Yemen's deputy permanent representative to the UN, urged the Houthis to end the siege.

The siege by the Houthis on Taez in Yemen, that has gone on for more than seven years, is a smirch on humanity. This war crime must end now,” Mr Noman said on Twitter.

“Taez is the city of peace, culture and enlightenment, and yet the Houthis are depriving its residents from roads and lifelines. It must end now,” he said.

Yemen’s conflict has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. About 80 per cent of the population is reliant on aid and millions face starvation, the UN World Food Programme said.

The two-month UN-brokered truce began on April 2, at the start of Ramadan, and has largely held despite alleged Houthi breaches.

The truce is the first between the government and the Houthis in seven years.

Updated: May 29, 2022, 1:01 PM