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UN envoy hopes for talks on Yemen peace plan next month

Shiite Huthi rebels during a gathering to mobilize more fighters to the battlefront to fight pro-government forces, in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah on June 18, 2018
AFP

United Nations (United States) (AFP) – The UN envoy for Yemen hopes to relaunch talks on a peace plan next month despite an offensive on the key port city of Hodeida that threatens to escalate the war and trigger a humanitarian disaster, diplomats said Monday.

Speaking by videoconference from Sanaa, Martin Griffiths briefed the Security Council behind closed doors on his framework for peace talks even as the Saudi-led coalition pressed on with an assault on the city.

A first round of preliminary talks could take place next month to restart negotiations on a political transition, Griffiths told the council, according to two diplomats in the chamber.

Following the meeting, Russian Deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyansky said council members renewed their call for the port at Hodeida, the entry point for vital aid deliveries and commercial goods, to remain open.

“We hope that nothing terrible happens in Hodeida,” said Polyansky whose country holds the council presidency this month.

Fierce fighting this month has displaced 5,200 families mostly from districts south of the city, UN officials said, adding that the number of those fleeing the violence was expected to rise.

The Saudi-led coalition launched an offensive on June 13 to drive out Yemen’s Huthi rebels from the Red Sea port city of 600,000.

– No deal on Hodeida –

Griffiths has been in talks with the Huthis and the coalition about the fate of Hodeida but there has been no breakthrough in the intense negotiations.

The coalition has insisted that the Huthis must fully withdraw from the city and turn over the port to UN supervision, but the rebels have so far only agreed to shared control with the United Nations of the port.

After days of talks with the Huthis in Sanaa, Griffiths told the council that he was consulting with the coalition on the next steps in his efforts to avoid an all-out battle in Hodeida, diplomats said.

The United Nations has warned that an attack on Hodeida port could cripple deliveries of commercial goods and humanitarian aid to millions of people in Yemen who are on the brink of famine.

UN aid chief Mark Lowcock told the council that so far, the humanitarian impact had been limited because there had been no large-scale fighting in the city, diplomats said.

On Sunday, however, coalition air strikes hit close to an area where the World Food Programme is operating, Lowcock said, according to the council diplomats.

The aid chief warned that current food stocks will run out in two months and that it would be “catastrophic” if the fighting lasted longer.

More than 22 million people are in need of aid, including 8.4 million who are at risk of starvation, according to the United Nations, which considers Yemen to be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has been leading a military campaign to push back the Huthis and restore the internationally recognized government to power.

The conflict has left nearly 10,000 people dead in Yemen, already the Arab world’s poorest country.

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