Yemen's warring parties willing to restart talks: UN envoy

  • 29 Jun 2018

Both Yemen's Shia rebels, known as Houthis, and the country's Saudi-backed government confirmed their willingness to come to the table to restart negotiations with the UN Security Council.

Martin Griffiths (C), the UN special envoy for Yemen, disembarks from a plane upon his arrival at Sanaa international airport on June 16, 2018, for talks on the key aid port of Hudaida, where Houthi rebel fighters are battling a regional coalition. Griffiths is expected to propose to rebel leaders that they cede control of the Red Sea port to a UN-supervised committee to avoid further fighting with advancing government troops which are backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. ( AFP )

Yemen's warring parties have confirmed their willingness to restart negotiations after a two-year hiatus, the UN special envoy for Yemen said even as fighting raged along the country's west coast over a key port city.

Martin Griffiths told the UN radio late on Thursday that he plans to bring Yemen's Shia rebels, known as Houthis, and the country's internationally recognised government backed by a Saudi-led coalition to the negotiating table within the next few weeks "at the very latest."

He added that both sides have confirmed their willingness to talk.

"Both parties have confirmed to me their willingness to come to the table to restart negotiations. I think it's long overdue that that should take place. It’s been about two years since the last talks on Yemen."

He said he hopes the UN Security Council will come up with a plan next week and present it to the Yemenis.

"I’m hoping that the [UN] Security Council will meet next week and we’ll put a plan before them as to how we’re going to bring the talks back," he said.

Griffiths has been talking to both sides to prevent an all-out bloodbath in Hudaida, which is a lifeline for Yemen's population.

In the last few days, He has visited Yemen's President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in the southern city of Aden, temporary headquarters of the exiled government. 

He also met with Mohammed Abdul-Salam, chief negotiator of the Houthi group fighting against the government. He said he expects more talks with the Houthi side to take place within the next few days over the start of negotiations.

UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths (L) listens to the undersecretary of Houthi-led government's foreign ministry, Faisal Abu-Rass upon his departure of Sanaa, Yemen on June 19, 2018.(Reuters)

Griffiths attributed a lull in the fighting on Friday "to the discussions we have been having with the parties."

Griffiths expected more talks with the Houthis in the next few days to be clear about the timing and details of negotiations between the two sides.

There were estimated to be up to 1 million Yemenis fighting and it would be a massive task to disarm, demobilise and reintegrate them, but that was the priority for the ordinary people of Yemen, he said.

"The aim of the peace process I hope we can begin in the near future is to return to the state and government of Yemen a new government of national unity, the monopoly of force we consider normal in every other country."

A man displaced by the fighting near the Red Sea port city of Hudaida carries aid kits he received from United Nations agencies in Hudaida, Yemen on June 27, 2018.(Reuters)

Earlier this month, Yemeni forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition launched an offensive to retake Hudaida. Fighting has been concentrated at and around the city's airport, threatening to worsen Yemen's humanitarian situation.

Aid groups have repeatedly voiced fears that a protracted fight could shut down the port and potentially tip millions of people into starvation.

Recently, the Houthis offered the United Nations a lead role in managing Hudaida's port, pending "an overall cease-fire" in the rebel-held city. This has been accepted by both sides, Griffiths said, adding that talks were continuing on how to completely avoid any attack and that the UN role would begin "as soon as the parties" formally agree.

"At the moment we are still in negotiations as to whether a UN role would help to avoid an attack, and more importantly, and this is where I think we’re going, whether in fact the restart of negotiations will mean the attack on Hudaida or the move towards war will be avoided."

The civil war in impoverished Yemen has raged unabated since March 2015.