UN says Yemen government and southern forces must implement Riyadh agreement

Special envoy Martin Griffiths expresses frustration at lack of progress on peace deal

United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths, speaks during news conference, in Marib, Yemen March 7, 2020. REUTERS/Ali Owidha
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Yemen's internationally recognised government and rival southern forces must implement the Riyadh Agreement to prevent more suffering due to the coronavirus outbreak and move the country closer peace, the United Nations special envoy told the Security Council on Thursday.

"I am coming to this council yet again to express hope, instead of to report success. This is frustrating, at a time when the spread of Covid-19 and a global economic downturn threaten to cause even more adversity in a country that has already experienced more than nearly any other," Martin Griffiths said.

The Riyadh Agreement was brokered by Saudi Arabia in November after government forces clashed with those allied to the Southern Transitional Council in and around Aden, the interim seat of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi's administration since it was pushed out of Sanaa by the Houthi rebels in late 2014.

However the STC declared a plan to move towards self rule in late April, accusing the government of delaying a cabinet shake-up and not implementing a new power-sharing arrangement agreed in Riyadh.

Mr Griffiths said implementation of the deal "would help ensure responsive governance and improved service delivery in Aden".

The agreement “would also provide for the STC’s inclusion in the government’s negotiation delegation in a resumed UN-led political process aimed at ending the national conflict”, he said.

The Riyadh pact made the STC an official partner of the Saudi-led Arab Coalition that is supporting the government against the rebels, and a party to the UN-led effort to end the war. Left unaddressed was the thorny issue of the STC's aspirations for the restoration of an independent Southern Yemen.

Mr Griffiths' address to Security Council came as the government's health ministry reported coronavirus outbreaks in all eight provinces controlled by the government.

There are now 70 confirmed cases and 12 deaths in Yemen, but international and regional agencies have accused the Houthis of concealing information about tens of cases in Sanaa and other rebel-controlled areas.

Mr Griffiths said the people of Yemen “are right to be frustrated" at the slow pace of negotiations and agreement implementation.

He urged the parties to put down their weapons and come to the negotiating table.

The Saudi-led coalition announced a unilateral truce last month, prompted by a UN plea for all sides to focus on the virus pandemic, but the Houthis have not accepted it and violence has continued.

Mr Griffiths said both the government and the Houthi rebels have engaged constructively with the UN’s truce proposals.

“These are important indications of the willingness of the parties to make many of the compromises needed to bring peace to Yemen. I am also grateful to the Coalition for extending its ceasefire for the month of Ramadan,” he said.

The international body is trying to convene virtual talks on the truce, co-ordinated coronavirus efforts and confidence-building steps to restart talks to end the war.

Mr Griffiths said that “the military situation in Yemen remains extremely concerning”, citing continued heavy fighting in Marib, Bayda and Dhalea provinces.

“In Hodeidah, ceasefire violations continue all too often. I am particularly concerned by the regular shelling of residential areas in the city and southern districts,” he said.

The UN envoy is seeking to increase trust between the parties to fully implement a 2018 ceasefire agreement for Hodeidah, a vital port city for food and aid imports.