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April 3, 2018 10:02 am

Yemen, UN Chief Seek Peace Talks With Iran-Allied Houthis

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Photo: UN.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the warring sides in Yemen on Tuesday to reach a political settlement to end a four-year-old conflict that has left 22 million people in urgent need of aid.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdel-Malek al-Mekhlafi echoed the call for a return to the negotiating table and said that his internationally-recognised government was working to open ports and airports to humanitarian aid.

The UN conference, which is seeking pledges towards a $3 billion funding appeal to address the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, takes place a day after an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen killed 12 civilians in the coastal city of Hodeidah and the Houthi rebels later targeted Saudi Arabia’s southern border area with a missile.

“A negotiated political settlement through inclusive intra-Yemeni dialogue is the only solution. I urge all parties to engage with my new Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, without delay,” Guterres told the one-day conference.

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“All ports must remain open to humanitarian and commercial cargo, the medicines, food and the fuel needed to deliver them. Sanaa airport is also a lifeline that must be kept open,” he said.

The war has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced more than 2 million and driven the country — already the poorest on the Arabian Peninsula — to the verge of famine. Hodeidah is Yemen’s biggest port where most of the humanitarian aid enters for millions of hungry civilians but the government accuses Houthis who control the port of smuggling weapons through it.

Mekhlafi said: “We need to find the ideal solution which is a return to the talks table, to put an end the war, to return to a sustainable system supported by the people of Yemen, including the putschist parties and those supported by the international community.”

The country’s unity and territorial integrity must be preserved, he added.

When the Houthis fired missiles at Riyadh last November, the Western-backed coalition responded by shutting Yemen’s airports and ports. The United Nations said that blockade raised the danger of mass starvation and it was partially lifted.

“It is a war that should end, so we need a ceasefire, we need peace talks, we need an end to the embargo on many of Yemen’s ports,” Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, told Reuters.

“But we also ask Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran — who are supporting opposing sides — and for that matter, the United Kingdom, the United States, who are earning enormous sums of money on arms sales to this conflict to push the parties to the table.”

Senior aid officials from Britain and the United States also called for a political solution to the conflict.

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