UN envoy expresses concern over truce violations in Yemen

CAIRO –
The UN envoy for Yemen on Wednesday expressed concern over violations of a ceasefire in the war-torn country, urging warring parties to maintain the first national truce in six years.

Meanwhile, Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has sacked his vice president and announced a presidential council to lead the country and lead negotiations with Iran-backed rebels, according to a statement carried early Thursday by state media.

Hans Grundberg, the UN envoy, said while the truce has led to ‘a significant reduction in violence’ in Yemen, there are reports of ‘some hostile military activity’, particularly around the central city of Marib.

He did not say which party was responsible for the violations, but Yemen’s internationally recognized government blamed Iran-backed Houthi rebels for attacking their positions in southern and western Marib. A Houthi spokesman was unavailable for comment.

“This truce is a step, an important step, but a fragile step, nonetheless,” he said. “We must make the most of the window this truce gives us to work towards ending the conflict.”

Houthi rebels have been trying for more than a year to seize energy-rich Marib from government forces. But their efforts have been dashed in recent months amid growing support for the pro-government side of the Saudi-led coalition.

Grundberg told a virtual press conference that the United Nations was working on a coordination mechanism with the warring parties to maintain the truce, which was announced earlier this month. It is supposed to last two months.

Grundberg warned that the ceasefire is not monitored by the UN and that “the responsibility for maintaining the truce rests entirely with the parties themselves”.

Yemen’s brutal civil war erupted in 2014, when the Iran-backed Houthis seized the capital of Sanaa and forced the government into exile. The Saudi-led coalition went to war in early 2015 in an attempt to restore the government to power.

The conflict has in recent years become a regional proxy war that has killed more than 150,000 people, including more than 14,500 civilians. It has also created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

The truce announced by the UN also includes the authorization of the arrival of fuel in the key port city of Yemen, Hodeïda, and the resumption of passenger flights from Sanaa airport. Hodeidah and Sanaa are in the hands of the Houthis.

The UN envoy said he had invited the two sides to convene a meeting to agree on the reopening of roads around Taiz and other provinces as part of the truce.

“We eagerly await their responses,” he said.

Taiz, which remains partially held by forces fighting on behalf of the government, has been blocked by the Houthis for years.

Meanwhile, Hadi, the Yemeni president exiled in Saudi Arabia since the Houthi coup, announced the transfer of his powers to a presidential council, according to a statement carried early Thursday by state media.

The newly created body includes a chairman and seven members and will lead negotiations to establish a permanent ceasefire and a political settlement of the conflict, according to the statement.

Hadi also sacked Vice President Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, the state-run SABA news agency reported. The powers of the vice-president were also transferred to the presidential council.

The president has also established a 50-member Consultation and Reconciliation Authority to assist the presidential council in peace efforts.

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