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UN envoy for Yemen urges warring parties to seize opportunity for peace

Xinhua | Updated: 2020-04-17 09:06

Photo taken on April 16, 2020 at the United Nations headquarters in New York shows UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths speaking via video teleconference at a virtual Security Council meeting. [Photo/Xinhua]

UNITED NATIONS - UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths on Thursday asked the warring parties to seize the opportunity for peace.

An opportunity has emerged to bring peace to Yemen, said Griffiths, referring to the willingness of the Yemeni government and Houthi forces to forge a cease-fire.

"All eyes are now on the parties to the conflict. This is the time for hard decisions. None of us should underestimate the demands that are placed upon the leadership of both parties. The decisions now needed from both parties are of existential importance for the future of the country," he told the Security Council in a briefing.

"And I know that both the government of Yemen and Ansar Allah want to end this conflict on the basis of a fair and just peace," he said, using the official name of Houthi forces.

The opportunity for peace has come as the country faces some of its toughest days. Military escalations have continued on several fronts for three months. The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic to Yemen threatens to bring deeper and more widespread suffering to the people, he noted.

"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," said the envoy.

The threat of COVID-19 has galvanized the effort toward peace among Yemenis as well as the international community, he said.

On March 25, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made an urgent appeal for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Yemen, and for the parties to focus on reaching a negotiated political settlement and doing everything possible to counter COVID-19. The Yemeni government immediately welcomed the call as did the Houthi leadership. In addition, there was an outpouring of support from other Yemeni political leaders and civil society, he noted.

On April 8, the Saudi-led military coalition, which is fighting Houthis in Yemen, announced a unilateral cease-fire for an initial period of two weeks. The explicit aim of this cease-fire is to create a conducive environment for the success of UN-led efforts for peace, said Griffiths.

In this context, the special envoy presented proposals to the Yemeni government and the Houthi forces: the first on a nationwide cease-fire agreement; the second on key humanitarian and economic measures, which may include releases of prisoners and detainees, opening Sanaa International Airport, paying civil servant salaries, opening access roads, and ensuring the entry of ships carrying essential commodities into Hodeidah ports; the third on the urgent resumption of the political process.

Griffiths said he has been in constant negotiations over the past two weeks with the parties on the texts of these agreements. "We expect them to agree on and formally adopt these agreements in the immediate future."

The pace of these negotiations has not been impeded by the need to conduct them virtually, according to the envoy.

"I can report that we are making very good progress. We are moving toward a consensus over the proposals, particularly on the principle of a nationwide cease-fire. And we are redoubling our efforts to bridge the outstanding differences between the parties, before we convene them at a meeting where, because it will be virtual, agreements will be tabled, confirmed and published," he said.

Griffiths regretted the fact that military activities continue on a number of fronts despite many calls from Yemenis and the international community for them to stop. "I fear it will continue until we get an agreement on our proposals, including a nationwide cease-fire. The governorate of Marib remains the center of gravity of this war, yet not the only theater. The sooner we can stop the fighting, the better."

The heavy fighting has continued to take the lives of more innocent Yemeni civilians. An attack on the women's section of the Central Prison in Taiz city on April 5 killed and injured many, including children, he said.

Griffiths condemned the horrific attack and underlined that all civilians and civilian objects, including prisons and prisoners, must be protected under international humanitarian law.

Violations of the Hodeidah cease-fire agreement continue on a daily basis, said Griffiths.

Following the shooting and serious injury of a government liaison officer by a sniper, the UN-led mechanisms to implement the Hodeidah Agreement have ceased to function, he said. "As we are all striving to maintain stability in Hodeidah and achieve, in parallel and as reinforcement, a nationwide cease-fire, it is important that the parties resume the work of the Redeployment Coordination Committee and the joint mechanisms that underpin it."

Griffiths highlighted the threat of COVID-19 in Yemen.

"Yemen cannot face two fronts at the same time: a war and a pandemic. The new battle that Yemen faces in confronting the virus will be all-consuming," he warned.

"We can do no less than stop this war and turn all our attention to this new threat. We have heard the calls from Yemenis across the country asking all of us to make the virus our priority. I know that the leaders of both parties as well as those in the region understand this as well as anyone," he added.

Yemen reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 last week.

More than five years of war have severely degraded Yemen's health infrastructure, exhausted people's immune systems and increased acute vulnerabilities. As a result, epidemiologists have warned that COVID-19 in Yemen could spread faster, more widely and with deadlier consequences than in many other countries, said UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, who also briefed the Security Council on Yemen's humanitarian situation.

"We are, in other words, running out of time," said Lowcock.

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