UN envoy pushes Yemen’s Houthis to reopen Taez roads and keep 'fragile truce' alive

A 2.5-month-old truce could unravel unless rebel group lets civilians drive into Yemen’s third-largest city

A taxi drives on a mountainous detour road around Taez, Yemen. Reuters
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The UN envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, on Tuesday pushed Yemen’s Houthi rebels to keep the country’s fragile truce alive by helping to reopen roads into the south-western city of Taez.

Yemen’s government backs UN plans to reopen the Habwan route into the government-held city, but the Houthis, who see the road as a front line in the war, are dragging their feet, he said.

The closed roads into Taez and other cities have become a sticking point in talks on an April 1 truce between Yemen's warring parties, which raised hopes of an end to years of death and destruction.

“While I am encouraged by the positive response by the government of Yemen to the United Nations proposal, I am still waiting for a response from Ansar Allah,” said Mr Grundberg, using the Houthis’ official name.

“Following the constructive discussions I had in [Yemen’s Houthi-held capital] Sanaa at the end of last week, I urge Ansar Allah to respond positively without delay to the United Nations proposals.”

The UN plan for reopening roads involves ensuring civilians can use the routes safely. The Houthis reportedly say they cannot move their forces from a front-line position outside the government-held city.

Mr Grundberg says the “long and arduous” mountain route from Sanaa to Taez takes twice as long as the more direct but closed three-hour main road.

Poor access to the city has “crippled the economy” and denied some locals access to medical care, he said.

The hold-up has exposed “the fragility of the truce” between the rebels and the government, which was extended on June 2, said Mr Grundberg, and “delays to implementation might threaten to unravel it in its entirety”.

“Resorting to transactionalism, threatening to condition the implementation of one element of the truce against another, and using escalatory media rhetoric undermines the truce,” he told the UN Security Council in New York.

Council members met amid signs of diplomatic progress in the region, with Houthi officials and Saudi Arabia, which backs Yemen’s government, reportedly resuming direct talks over a potential peace and security deal along the kingdom’s border.

The so far sporadic negotiations between senior Saudi and Houthi officials resumed last month before the scheduled renewal of a UN-brokered truce, Reuters reported. They were enabled by Oman and could lead to a face-to-face meeting in Muscat.

US President Joe Biden has also announced plans to meet Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman next month, indicating an effort to bolster ties with Riyadh that have grown strained since Mr Biden came into office.

The Houthis seized control of Sanaa in 2014, prompting a Saudi-led military intervention to support the government the following year.

The war has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and left millions hungry and destitute.

Updated: June 14, 2022, 10:58 PM