UN envoy urges new pullouts from Yemen ports and peace steps

Cargo and oil tanker ships sit idle Sept. 29, 2018, at the port of Hodeida, Yemen.


By EDITH M. LEDERER | Associated Press | Published: May 15, 2019

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. envoy for Yemen urged the warring parties Wednesday to maintain the momentum of the initial pullout of Houthi rebel forces from three ports by moving quickly to larger joint withdrawals — and to work urgently on a political solution to the devastating conflict.

Martin Griffiths told the Security Council there are “signs of hope” but also “alarming signs in recent days” that progress can be threatened, noting that war often trumps peace.

He pointed to an escalation of violence in Yemen’s southern Dhale province, which had been under the control of forces loyal to the internationally recognized government. He also expressed serious concern at news of a drone attack Tuesday on oil facilities in neighboring Saudi Arabia, saying “we cannot ignore how these developments affect the political process.”

The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by the Iran-backed Houthis. A Saudi-led coalition allied with the internationally recognized government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.

The fighting in the Arab world’s poorest country has killed thousands of civilians, has left millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and has pushed the country to the brink of famine.

“Yemen remains at the crossroads between war and peace,” Griffiths said, despite the significance of the U.N.-monitored Houthi withdrawals from the key port of Hodeida and the smaller ports of Salif and Ras Issa between May 11 and 14. The port at Hodeida handles about 70% of Yemen’s commercial and humanitarian imports.

He said the withdrawals must be followed by “concrete actions” by the government and the Houthis to deliver on their commitments to further redeployments under the agreement signed in Sweden in December.

A U.N. official has said the first phase of redeployment involves a pullback of several miles by the Houthis and coalition forces, and the second phase involves a withdrawal of 11 to 18½ miles, depending on the location and fighters.

Both sides have agreed on the operational plan for phase one and Griffiths urged them to agree on the plan for phase two.

He urged the Security Council to welcome the redeployments, urge the parties to work quickly to implement the remaining withdrawals, and work urgently with the U.N. on a political solution.

“These beginnings, these early shoots, must be protected from the threat of war,” Griffiths said. “We must not allow war to take peace off the table.”

U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the council that 10 million Yemenis are relying on food assistance to survive and “the specter of famine still looms.”

A resurgent cholera outbreak has affected 300,000 people so far this year — compared with 370,000 during all of 2018, he said.

Henrietta Fore, head of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, told the council that since the fighting began in Yemen four years ago, 7,300 children have been killed or injured, and the numbers are no doubt higher because those are verified numbers.

She said 360,000 children are suffering from severe, acute malnutrition and half the children younger than 5 — 2.5 million — are stunted, “and stunting is irreversible.”

“Yemen is spiraling perilously close to the brink,” Fore said.

She urged the parties to agree to “days of tranquility” to vaccinate children — and to enable 15 million Yemeni children to live in peace.

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