UN envoy to Yemen warns surge in fighting risks peace efforts

Martin Griffiths tells UN Security Council Yemen's warring sides must not take 'peace for granted'

United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths speaks during his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Russia, on July 1, 2019. AP
United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths speaks during his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Russia, on July 1, 2019. AP

The UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, warned on Tuesday that an escalation in violence is putting peace efforts at the risk of collapse.

Fighting between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and forces loyal to the government broke out on January 19 after months of relative calm.

The two sides signed an agreement in December 2018 meant to pave the way for wider peace talks aimed at ending the war.

“The hard work the parties have done is at grave risk of being undone,” Mr Griffiths told the Security Council.

The envoy brokered an agreement in Sweden between Yemen’s internationally recognised government and the Houthi rebels, which included a ceasefire and all troops to withdraw from the port city of Hodeidah.

Opening a humanitarian corridor and a prisoner swap between the rebels and government were also part of the deal.

“We have all been acutely aware that renewed violence could reverse the gains made, render peace more difficult and inflict even more severe humanitarian consequences on the population,” Mr Griffiths said.

“The military situation has grown increasingly dire. Both sides have announced expansive military goals and exchanged fierce rhetoric."

Mr Griffiths said that both sides must not “take peace for granted”.

“It requires continuous commitment and nurturing of a political process," he said. "The escalation directly contradicts the parties’ desire to move in that direction."

Mr Griffiths said Yemeni leaders told him that "peace can only emerge from a political compromise between both parties through a UN-led process".

He said a reduction in violence would not be enough to uphold peace.

Mr Griffiths said Yemen needed unity, especially "a vision for a post-conflict Yemen in line with relevant Security Council resolutions".

Sunday marked a recent breakthrough when the two sides finalised a plan to implement the prisoner swap agreed to.

"Despite the dire military situation, the parties have made significant progress in their efforts to build confidence and provide relief for those in suffering," Mr Griffiths said.

After holding three rounds of talks on the exchange the parties agreed to complete the first prisoner swap.

It would be the “first official, large-scale” exchange of its kind since the start of the conflict in 2014.

"This is a firm commitment from the parties to the families that they will be reunited with their loved ones," Mr Griffiths said.

"And it is a sign that the parties are prepared to progress towards their commitment to release all those deprived of their liberty in relation to the conflict."

Karen Pierce, the British permanent representative to the UN, on Tuesday told the Security Council that her country welcomed the prisoner swap agreement made on Sunday.

"The decrease in violence that began in October was welcomed by the international community and by Yemenis," Ms Pierce said.

"But as the emergency Council session on January 28 acknowledged, the recent violence in Al Jawf and Nehm is a very grave concern.

"Regardless of who started the violence, it is clear that the Houthis have sought to exploit the situation and this is unacceptable."

Updated: February 19, 2020 12:04 AM


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