UN envoy to Yemen upbeat on peace talks despite delay

Martin Griffiths's comments come ahead of first UN-led peace talks in two years, reports Mina Aldroubi in Geneva

epa06998885 Martin Griffiths, UN Special Envoy for Yemen, gives a press conference on the eve of the Geneva Consultations on Yemen at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, 05 September 2018. Delegates for the Houthi rebel movement said they were stuck in Yemen's capital Sana'a and hindered to leave the country for Geneva.  EPA/SALVATORE DI NOLFI
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UN special envoy Martin Griffiths on Wednesday said that discussions in Geneva were a chance to build confidence through a broad process that will serve as the first step towards peace negotiations in war-torn Yemen.

The talks, initially scheduled to begin on Thursday, have been pushed back to Friday morning in the Palais de Nations. The UN didn't specify the reasons for the delay.

Speaking in a room packed with reporters, Mr Griffiths said he hoped to see the internationally recognised Yemeni government and the Houthis in the same room, but that it would not be a necessity.

Diplomacy and confidence building is essential to send a signal of hope to the Yemeni people, he said, setting a determined tone ahead of the first the first talks in two years.

"It has been a process in Yemen, this is an opportunity for that page to be turned. We are talking about consultations, this is not a negotiation. This a process. We want to understand the issues of both parties," Mr Griffiths said firmly.

"This is a Yemeni [to] Yemeni discussion, it’s not for other countries to determine," he said.


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The UN envoy reiterated that there could not be a military solution to the conflict in Yemen and stressed instead the importance of diplomacy, even if a substantial deal must be struck at a later date.

"Diplomacy is essential to the talks, it’s a combination of diplomacy and negotiation," Mr Griffiths said.

Both sides have said they will release political prisoners and “have stressed the need to agree on a way to do this together”.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths attends a news conference ahead of Yemen talks at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland September 5, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
'This is a Yemeni-Yemeni discussion. It's not for other countries to determine,' Martin Griffiths said. Reuters

Talks with the Yemeni government will begin tonight. However the bulk of the negotiations will not start until Friday, by which time the Houthi delegation is expected to have arrived in Geneva.

The two factions were due to be in Geneva on Wednesday ahead of the talks the next day. So far only the Yemeni government delegation has arrived.

Mr Griffiths stressed the Houthis wanted to attend the talks and that he would make sure they did, adding that the Omanis were also intervening to guarantee their arrival in Geneva.

However on Wednesday the Houthi media channel, Al Masirah, said their contingent had yet to leave Sanaa due to delays.

Sources in Sanaa told The National that the Houthis had made last-minute demands, including a change of aircraft and to allow non-delegation members to travel without inspection.

"We are working at it, I think this issue will sort itself out. Yemen talks have always had a delay to begin, we are going to make it happen," Mr Griffiths said hesitantly, adding that the UN, Oman and others were working to ensure the arrival of the Houthi delegation.

The meeting will be the first UN-led peace talks in two years, although chances of anything more than an agreement to further talks are slim.

Mr Griffiths will act as the intermediary between the government officials and representatives of the Houthi rebels, as the rivals are unlikely to engage in face-to-face talks.

However both the government and the Iran-backed rebels have said they expect no breakthrough at the talks.

Yemen's delegation is led by Foreign Minister Khaled Al Yamani who arrived in Geneva on Wednesday afternoon. Human Rights Minister Mohamed Askar is also attending the talks.


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On Tuesday, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash tweeted his support for Mr Griffiths, praising UN-led efforts to end to the conflict peacefully.

“Yemen’s suffering following the Houthi coup can only end through a UN-led political process,” Dr Gargash said.

“The UAE, as part of Arab Coalition, welcomes peace talks which start in Geneva Thursday. We urge all Yemeni parties to engage constructively with the UN process.”

The strategic port of Hodeidah, disarming of all non-government forces, and the release of prisoners on both sides are expected to be the key aims of the talks, a government official told The National in late August.

The UN plan for Hodeidah would see the Red Sea harbour under UN supervision and the city under control of Yemeni government forces.

Hodeidah serves as an entry point for approximately 70 per cent of imports into Yemen. Houthis have held the port since 2014 when they launched an assault on the country, taking the city of Sanaa along with other areas of the country.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia and other allies intervened in the conflict in March 2015 with the goal of pushing back the Houthi militants and returning the internationally recognised government to power.