THE UN envoy who is negotiating a peace settlement to end the civil war in Yemen has said that there is still “a chance for peace”, despite the Yemeni government’s rejection of his latest draft deal.
The civil war in Yemen, which has forced millions to the brink of famine (News, 3 July), has entered its sixth year. The embattled population is also suffering from the coronavirus, an invasion of locusts that are destroying crops, and the threat of the world’s biggest-ever oil spill from the tanker FSO Safer, which has been moored off the coast of Yemen for more than five years.
The Houthi rebels control the area where the tanker is and have made conditions before allowing UN officials entry to board the tanker to inspect it. FSO Safer contains more than a billion litres of oil which represent a threat to the livelihoods of every fishing community along the west coast of Yemen.
Mark Griffiths, the UN envoy who is negotiating with the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels on behalf of the UN secretary-general, said that securing the safety of the tanker was included in the draft Joint Declaration.
The draft declaration would commit both sides to resuming peace talks urgently, “which is the only way to break with the violence of the past and end this conflict comprehensively and sustainably”, Mr Griffiths said in an interview with UN news.
Trying to negotiate online, owing to lockdown restrictions, had made the negotiations much harder, he said.
“The process has been long and challenging, especially as it is being conducted mainly in the virtual world. It is very difficult to negotiate such a sensitive agreement against the backdrop of the eroding trust between the parties, especially with the continued military hostilities on all fronts.”
He called for an immediate halt to an outbreak of hostilities in Ma’rib and Al Jawf which “undermined the prospect of peace in Yemen”, he said. “The continued military escalation makes everything more difficult. It comes at a very heavy price for civilians on all sides. It intensifies the challenge of responding effectively to the outbreak of Covid-19, and exacerbates the humanitarian suffering of a population that has already been through too much in the past five years.
“I am disheartened that, even while our negotiations are progressing, we continue to see the fervent quest for additional territorial gain on full display. And it is unfortunate that the fighting has not stopped or slowed down, even with the outbreak of the pandemic.”
There are 1500 reported cases of Covid-19 in Yemen, and 443 deaths have been recorded, but the World Health Organization thinks that the true number of cases could be more than a million.
Of the Yemeni population of 29 million, 80 per cent are already dependent on aid for survival, and the country is on the brink of famine once again, the UN has said, after it failed to raise the £1.9 billion needed in aid from international donors to keep programmes running in the country.