UN envoy: Talks on now to extend Yemen's 2-month cease-fire

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — With just two weeks left in a two-month cease-fire in Yemen, the U.N. envoy to the war-torn country said Tuesday that talks with the government and Houthi rebels are going on right now and he hopes the truce will be extended.

But Hans Grundberg was wary of making any prediction, saying that agreement on an extension would depend on the talks that he and his office are having with the warring parties.

“During these past six weeks we have seen considerable positive impact on the daily lives of many Yemenis,” he told reporters after a closed briefing to the U.N. Security Council. “First, and most importantly, the truce is holding in military terms.”

The two-month truce is the first nationwide cease-fire in six years in Yemen’s civil war, which erupted in 2014. That year, the Iranian-backed Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and forced the internationally recognized government into exile. A Saudi-led coalition entered the war in early 2015 to try to restore the government to power.

The conflict created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world while becoming a regional proxy war in recent years. More than 150,000 people have been killed, including over 14,500 civilians.

Since the truce, Grundberg said, “fighting has sharply reduced with no aerial attacks emanating from Yemen across its borders and no confirmed airstrikes inside Yemen.”

“Front lines across Yemen have quietened down significantly, and there are reports of increasing humanitarian access, including in some frontline locations that had previously been extremely difficult to access,” he said during the virtual news conference.

“However, we continue to see concerning reports of continued fighting involving incidents of civilian casualties despite overall reduction,” the U.N. envoy said, singling out violence in southern Dhale province and the southern city of Taiz, which is partially held by forces loyal to the government and has been blockaded by the Houthis for years.

Among other welcome developments, Grundberg said, the first commercial flight in almost six years took off from Sanaa airport for Jordan’s capital, Amman, on Monday and another flight brought Yemenis back. A second flight to Amman is scheduled for Wednesday.

“This has brought relief to so many Yemenis who have waited too long to travel, many of them for pressing medical reasons, and to pursue business and educational opportunities, or to reunite with loved ones after years of separation,” Grundberg said. “We are working with all involved to ensure the regularization of flights to and from Sanaa airport for the duration of the truce and to find durable mechanisms to keep it open.”

He said the Yemeni government’s clearance of 11 fuel ships to enter the country’s main port, Hodeida, means more fuel deliveries than during the six months before the truce. Yemen is dependent on imported food and basic supplies, but he said that since the truce the fuel crisis that had threatened civilians’ access to basic goods and services in Sanaa and surrounding regions “largely subsided.”

Grundberg said a priority now is to implement the truce agreement’s commitment to open roads in Taiz and other areas of Yemen, which would greatly ease travel and improve daily life including going to work.

“We have gotten positive responses from the parties in order to move forward with that,” he said.

The government has appointed its delegation to a U.N. meeting on opening roads and Grundberg said as soon as the Houthis appoint their delegation the U.N. will organize the discussion in Amman.

“The promise of the truce to civilians was one of more security, better access to basic goods and services, and improved freedom of movement within, to and from Yemen,” Grundberg said. “Yemenis can’t afford to go back to the pre-truce state of perpetual military escalation and political stalemate.”

The U.N. special representative said he is not only working to extend the truce but to initiate talks on many issues so that the government, Houthis and other Yemenis can tackle critical issues and reach a political settlement to the war.