Yemen: UN envoy Martin Griffiths wraps up Saudi visit to further peace prospects

Yemeni government officials cite environmental risk from oil tanker as a major concern

Saudi Arabia Minister of State for Foreign Affairs 
Adel Al Jubeir met with Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the UN to Yemen, Martin Griffiths. During the meeting they discussed issues of common concern. Courtesy Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
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UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths has concluded a visit to Saudi Arabia after talks with Saudi and Yemeni officials on a peace process to end Yemen's civil war.

Mr Griffiths' proposal calls for a nationwide ceasefire, including all air, ground and naval hostilities, and for the parties to ensure compliance on the front lines between government forces and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

But lack of trust between the two sides has slowed the UN's push for peace.

"Martin Griffiths has concluded a visit to Riyadh where he met with officials from the Government of Yemen and Saudi Arabia, pursuing discussions over the text of a Joint Declaration that would lead to the agreement by the Government of Yemen and Ansar Allah to a nationwide ceasefire, humanitarian and economic measures and the urgent resumption of the political process," a UN official from the envoy's office told The National.

Mr Griffiths met the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel Al Jubeir, on Wednesday night to discuss political developments in Yemen, the Saudi state news agency reported.

Yemen's Vice President Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar and Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik offered Mr Griffiths their views on his proposals including on the role of the Houthis in a new government, according to Yemeni officials quoted by the official Saba news agency.

Yemen's leaders have lived in exile in Riyadh since the rebels overran the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in 2014 and ousted the government.

Mr Al Ahmar said the rebels continued to “procrastinate” on many issues, such as a rusting oil tanker off the coast of western Yemen that experts have said is in danger of leaking or exploding with repairs, causing an environmental catastrophe if it breaks apart, according to the Saba report.

He urged Mr Griffiths to pressure the Houthis to allow a team of experts to examine the ship to prevent the looming disaster.

“Mr Al Ahmar called on the UN envoy to clarify the Houthi stance to the Security Council towards this catastrophe,” Saba quoted him as saying.

The FSO Safer, 60 kilometres north of the rebel-held port of Hodeidah, was used as a storage centre for Yemen's oil exports and is loaded with more than a million barrels of crude oil. Cracks are already appearing in the hull and seawater has reportedly entered the tanker, which has been abandoned since the start of the war.

The UN official said Mr Griffiths "discussed the Safer tanker issue and reiterated the urgent need to avert the threat that this tanker poses to the lives and livelihoods of the Yemenis".

Yemen’s Information Minister, Moamar El Eryani, said on Thursday that the rebels had ignored international demands on reducing the risk posed by the tanker.

An oil spill would cause an environmental, economic and humanitarian catastrophe “ten times bigger than the Beirut explosions” that occurred last week, Mr El Eryani said on Twitter.

“I call on riparian countries on the Red Sea to sense the danger, unify their efforts and play a pivotal role in confronting this to avoid a potential disaster,” he said.

Mr Griffiths discussed the issue with the Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Al Jaber earlier this week.