UN envoy calls on Yemen's sides to 'avoid return to war'

Hans Grundberg tells the UN Security Council he hopes to expand truce and start talks on a long-term ceasefire

UN special envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg briefs the UN Security Council on the situation in the country by video, at the UN headquarters in New York. AFP
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The UN special envoy for Yemen said on Monday that he is stepping up efforts to reach an expanded truce between the country's warring sides.

Hans Grundberg told the UN Security Council in New York that he hoped efforts would lead to the start of talks on a ceasefire and preparations for resuming a Yemeni-led political process.

A two-month extension of an existing truce that began on April 2 was agreed by the internationally recognised government and Iran-backed Houthi rebels on August 2.

This has resulted in the longest pause in fighting since Yemen’s civil war began in 2014.

Mr Grundberg said a commitment by the two sides to try to reach an expanded truce agreement by October 2 could further improve the lives of Yemenis facing one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

Earlier this month, the UN envoy said an expanded truce would offer a mechanism to pay public sector salaries, the opening of more roads, expanded flights from the capital Sanaa and regular flow of fuel to the Red Sea port of Hodeidah.

Failure to extend the truce “would lead to renewed cycles of escalation and violence,” he warned in Monday's video briefing.

“Yemen urgently needs to avoid this scenario and I call on the parties to make the choice to build the necessary confidence to avoid a return to war and to begin to build a lasting peace,” said Mr Grundberg.

Yemen’s civil war began in 2014 when the Houthis descended from their northern enclave and took over the capital, forcing the government to flee to the south and then to Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi-led coalition — backed by the US — entered the war in early 2015 at the invitation of the government in a bid to restore it to power.

Displaced Yemenis receive aids of tents, mattresses and bedding, after their camp was exposed to heavy rain that damaged their tents, in the Khokha district of the country's war-ravaged western province of Hodeida, on August 12. AFP

Since the truce was implemented at the beginning of Ramadan, Mr Grundberg said it continues to “broadly hold in military terms”, with no major operations or changes to front lines and no confirmed air strikes in Yemen or cross-border attacks from Yemen.

The significant decline in casualties since the start of the truce is continuing, with the lowest casualty count in the first week of August since the beginning of the truce and the war, he said.

But Ghada Mudawi, the acting director of operations and advocacy in the UN humanitarian office, told the council that “according to open-source reports, more than 150 civilians have been killed since the truce began in April”.

She said shelling in a residential district in the south-western city of Taez killed one child and injured 10 others on July 23.

Mr Grundberg said after spending time on both sides of the front line in Taez, Yemen’s third largest city, opening the roads there and in other provinces is “at the forefront” of his efforts.

He said several proposals with different sets of roads and sequencing options have been presented to the parties.

In pictures — Yemen's Unesco-listed buildings damaged by rain

Mr Grundberg said that since the truce, 33 ships have been cleared to enter Hodeidah, bringing in almost one million tonnes of fuel.

In addition, 31 return flights have operates between Sanaa International Airport and Jordan's capital Amman transporting more than 15,000 passengers, he said.

Despite the truce, Ms Mudawi said “alarming conditions persist” in the economy.

She said the exchange rate for the Yemeni rial is now worse than it was before the truce and the food supply chain is “precarious”.

Commercial food imports have fallen for the fourth consecutive month — coming in 30 per cent below the 12-month average.

Nonetheless, Ms Mudawi said aid agencies continue to reach an average of 11 million people across the country every month, even though they continue to face “serious constraints”, including insecurity and incitement against agencies on social media.

“Aid agencies reported 532 access incidents in the second quarter of this year — an improvement over the first quarter, but still equivalent to about six incidents every day — mostly due to movement restrictions,” she said.

$80m needed to move oil from decaying tanker

Ms Mudawi said the UN is still working to raise enough money to start an emergency operation to transfer more than 1 million barrels of oil from a decaying tanker, the FSO Safer, which has been moored off the Red Sea port of Ras Issa since the late 1980s.

Experts have warned that it could cause an environmental disaster if it starts leaking or breaks up.

The UN has received pledges of $63 million, she said, but it needs $80m to start the emergency transfer of oil and $144m for the full plan, which includes replacing the vessel.

Updated: August 16, 2022, 10:42 AM