Yemen's warring sides to agree to UN-led measures aimed at ending war

Progress made to adopt nationwide ceasefire agreement and humanitarian and economic deal, says UN envoy

FILE - In this Feb. 20, 2020 file photo, Houthi rebel fighters display their weapons during a gathering aimed at mobilizing more fighters for the Iranian-backed Houthi movement, in Sanaa, Yemen.  (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)
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Yemen’s warring sides are expected to agree to measures aimed at ending the war “in the immediate future”, the UN envoy to the country said on Thursday.

Martin Griffiths has presented proposals for a nationwide ceasefire agreement, as well as humanitarian and economic measures to Yemen’s internationally recognised government and Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the past two weeks.

“We have been in constant negotiations with the parties on the texts of these agreements," Mr Griffiths told the UN Security Council by video.

"We expect them to agree on and formally adopt these agreements in the immediate future."

Mr Griffiths said good progress had been made in reaching consensus, particularly about the truce.

He said economic and humanitarian measures could include the release of prisoners, opening Sanaa airport, paying civil servant salaries and opening access roads.

They would also include ensuring entry to Hodeidah ports for ships carrying commodities that will help in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Griffiths said.

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last month urged a global ceasefire so the world could focus on fighting the disease.

“We are redoubling our efforts to bridge the outstanding differences between the parties before we convene them at a meeting where agreements will be tabled, confirmed and published,” Mr Griffiths said.

Meanwhile, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock warned that three quarters of the body’s major programmes will shut down in the next few weeks because of funding shortages.

"Of the UN’s 41 major programmes, 31 will start closing down in the next few weeks if we can’t secure additional funds,” Mr Lowcock told the Security Council.

“This means we will have to start eliminating many of the activities that may offer Yemenis their best chance to avoid catching the virus."

Battles in Yemen have continued on several fronts for three months, with Marib being the "centre of gravity", Mr Lowcock said.

Mr Griffiths said he feared war would continue until the formal agreement was sealed.

“All eyes are now on the parties to the conflict," he said. "This is the time for hard decisions.

"None of us should underestimate the demands that are on the leadership of both parties."

Yemen’s government and the Houthis have been fighting since 2014, when the rebels overran the capital Sanaa.

A Saudi-led coalition was asked by the government to intervene in 2015 to assist in restoring its power.

Saudi Arabia announced last Thursday a unilateral ceasefire to help Yemen fight off the coronavirus pandemic.

The country reported its first case on April 10.

“The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic to Yemen threatens to bring deeper and more widespread suffering to the people," Mr Griffiths said.

"There cannot be a more timely moment for the two parties to commit to silencing the guns and ending the conflict through a peaceful, political solution."

The five-year war has killed more than 100,000 people and destroyed more than half of the country’s hospitals and clinics.

Saudi Arabia this month announced a contribution of $500 million (Dh1.83 billion) to the UN humanitarian response plan for Yemen, which was widely welcomed by the international community.

The kingdom also donated $25m to help combat the spread of the coronavirus in the country.

"We hope these funds can be quickly disbursed on similar terms as past years, which reflect global best practices in humanitarian donorship, so that the programmes I have described can continue," Mr Lowcock said.

Covid-19 is presenting a unique opportunity for Yemen, he said.

"It will reinvigorate the political process and move towards peace," Mr Lowcock said.