Marib truce breaches could plunge Yemen back into war, says UN envoy

A Ramadan ceasefire between rebel and government forces is only 'fragile and temporary', says Hans Grundberg

UN special envoy Hans Grundberg gives a press conference at Sanaa's international airport before his departure from the Yemeni capital on Wednesday. AFP
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UN peace envoy Hans Grundberg on Thursday said a ceasefire between Yemen’s warring forces was largely holding, but that outbreaks of violence in the central Marib region could drag the country back into war and turmoil.

Addressing the UN Security Council, Mr Grundberg said the two-month Ramadan truce that began this month offered “light at the end of the tunnel” for a nation ravaged by seven years of chaos and bloodshed.

The Houthi rebels, who control the capital Sanaa, west coast ports and much of northern Yemen, have stopped launching cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of the internationally recognised government has halted its air-strike campaign, the Swedish diplomat told the council.

“Thus far, the agreement is broadly holding,” said Mr Grundberg.

“But it is still fragile and temporary. We need to work collectively and intensively in these coming weeks to ensure it does not unravel.”

Breaches have been reported around the central city of Marib, where Yemen’s government has accused the Houthis of attacking their positions.

The rebels had tried for more than a year to capture the energy-rich region from government forces, but their efforts were dashed in recent months due to growing coalition support to pro-government Yemeni forces.

The breaches were “concerning and must be addressed urgently”, Mr Grundberg added.

At the same meeting, UAE diplomat Mohamed Abushahab praised Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, Yemen’s former president in exile, for last week transferring his powers to a leadership council, which is made up of the main groups lined up against the Houthis.

The deputy UAE ambassador welcomed Riyadh’s call “for the presidential leadership council to begin negotiations with Houthis under the auspices of the UN to reach a comprehensive and lasting political solution” to Yemen’s dragged-out conflict.

The UN’s top humanitarian Martin Griffiths said the truce had allowed for the arrival of much-needed fuel ships to the rebel-held west coast Hodeidah port, and progress on reopening roads in Taez and Sanaa airport to commercial flights.

The flights will route from Sanaa to Amman and Cairo, offering many Yemenis their first opportunity in six years to travel abroad for medical treatment, access to foreign embassies and other services unavailable at home.

“Hostilities have dropped sharply across the country. Civilian casualties have fallen to their lowest level in months,” said Mr Griffiths.

“We're seeing the kinds of changes that could … pave the way to a brighter future.”

The two-month truce implemented on April 2 was the first nationwide ceasefire in six years in Yemen’s civil war that erupted in 2014, when Houthis seized Sanaa and pushed Mr Hadi’s government into exile.

A Saudi-led coalition joined the war in early 2015 to counter the Iran-backed rebels.

The war has claimed more than 370,000 lives, directly and indirectly, according to UN figures, and caused widespread suffering, with four fifths of Yemen’s 30 million people needing humanitarian aid.

Updated: April 14, 2022, 5:33 PM