UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. special envoy for Yemen said Monday he is encouraged by intensified regional and international diplomatic activity to end the country’s eight-year conflict. He urged the warring parties to work toward “a shared vision” with concrete steps to restore peace to the Arab world’s poorest nation.
Hans Grundberg expressed appreciation for the diplomatic efforts by Saudi Arabia and Oman, telling the U.N. Security Council, “We are witnessing a potential step change in the trajectory of this eight-year-conflict.”
He said these ongoing efforts shouldn’t be wasted, and that demands “responsible actions” by Yemen’s internationally recognized government and Houthi rebels.
While regional and international support “is crucial” during negotiations and implementing a peace agreement, Grundberg said many issues on the table, especially those related to sovereignty, can only be resolved through talks between the warring parties.
Yemen’s devastating conflict began in 2014, when the Iran-backed Houthis seized the capital of Sanaa and much of northern Yemen and forced the government into exile. A Saudi-led coalition including the United Arab Emirates intervened in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognized government to power.
A U.N.-backed truce initially took effect in April 2022 and raised hopes for a longer pause in fighting, but it ended on Oct. 2 after just six months.
Grundberg told the council that despite the end of the truce, “the overall military situation in Yemen has remained stable” with no major escalation or changes to front lines despite some limited military activity especially in Marib, Taiz, Dali, Hodeida and Lahj provinces.
This has opened a window for intra-Yemeni talks but he stressed that “discussions on the short-term way forward are framed in the context of a more comprehensive solution that delineates a clear pathway towards a sustainable political settlement.
“Without an agreement that includes a shared vision for the way forward, the state of uncertainty will persist, and with it an increasing risk of military escalation and a return to full-blown conflict,” Grundberg warned.
Grundberg addressed the council by video link from Sanaa where he said he held “positive and constructive discussions” with the Houthi leadership represented by Mehdi Meshat. In recent weeks, he said he also held “fruitful talks” with Rashad al-Alimi, the head of Yemen’s internationally recognized government, and regional parties in the Saudi capital Riyadh and Oman’s capital Muscat.
The U.N. envoy said he urged the parties “to make the most of the space for dialogue provided by the absence of large-scale fighting” and “to work expeditiously towards a shared vision with concrete, actionable steps.”
U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths, a former U.N. envoy to Yemen, echoed Grundberg saying the new year “brings a genuine opportunity to move the political process forward.”
“The international community — and more importantly the parties to the conflict — must not let this chance go to waste,” he said.
But Griffiths said he fears 2023 will be “another extremely difficult year” with an estimated 21.6 million Yemenis needing humanitarian assistance “as the country’s economy continues to weaken and basic services hang by an ever-thinning thread.”
He called on the international community to support the U.N.’s humanitarian appeal and to redouble efforts to boost Yemen’s economy.