UN – With just two weeks to go before a two-month ceasefire in Yemen, the UN ambassador to the war-torn country said on Tuesday that talks were under way with the government and Huthi rebels and that he hoped the ceasefire would be extended.
“Over the past six weeks, we have seen a significant positive impact on the daily lives of many Yemenis,” he told reporters after a closed-door briefing at the UN Security Council. “First and foremost, the ceasefire is being held on military terms.”
The two-month ceasefire is the first nationwide ceasefire in six years of Yemen’s civil war, which began in 2014. That year, Iran-backed Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and forced the internationally recognized government into exile. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war in early 2015 in an attempt to regain power.
The conflict has become one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, turning into a regional proxy war in recent years. More than 150,000 people were killed, including more than 14,500 civilians.
Since the ceasefire, Grundberg said, “the war has sharply eased as there have been no airstrikes across the border in Yemen and no definite air strikes inside Yemen.”
“Front lines across Yemen have calmed down significantly, and there are reports of increased humanitarian access, including some frontline locations that were previously extremely difficult to access,” he told a virtual press conference.
“However, despite the overall decline, we are seeing reports of continued fighting involving civilian casualties,” said the UN envoy, adding that the southern Dhale province and the southern city of Taiz, which is partially occupied by loyal forces. Besieged by the government and the Houthis for years.
Among other welcome developments, Grundberg said, the first commercial flight in almost six years departed from Sanaa Airport on Monday for the Jordanian capital Amman and another flight returned to Yemen. The second flight to Amman is scheduled for Wednesday.
“It brings relief to many Yemenis who have waited too long to travel, many of them due to stress due to treatment, and pursuing business and education opportunities, or reuniting with loved ones after years of separation,” Grundberg said. “We are working with all concerned to find a sustainable mechanism for ensuring the regularization of flights from Sanaa Airport for the duration of the ceasefire and from there and keeping it open.”
He said the Yemeni government’s clearance for 11 fuel ships to enter the country’s main port of Hodeidah meant more fuel supplies than in the six months before the ceasefire. Yemen is dependent on imported food and basic supplies, but he said the energy crisis, which has threatened civilians with access to basic goods and services in Sana’a and surrounding areas since the ceasefire, has “greatly reduced.”
Grundberg said the priority now is to implement the ceasefire agreement’s promises to open roads in Taiz and other parts of Yemen, which will make travel much easier and improve daily life, including going to work.
“We have received positive response from the parties to move forward with this,” he said.
The government has appointed a delegation to a UN meeting on road opening, and Grundberg says the Houthis will hold talks in Amman as soon as they appoint a delegation.
“The promise of a ceasefire for civilians was greater security, better access to basic goods and services, and improved freedom of movement in and out of Yemen,” Grundberg said. “Yemenis cannot afford to return to a state of permanent military growth and pre-war political stalemate.”
The UN special envoy says he is working not only to increase the ceasefire but also to start talks on many issues so that the government, the Houthis and other Yemenis can address critical issues and find a political solution to the war.