UN Envoy to Seek Longer, Expanded Truce in Yemen Civil War

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. special envoy for Yemen said Monday he plans to explore the possibility of a longer and expanded truce with the country's warring parties in the coming weeks.

Hans Grundberg said an extension could be a good step in moving toward a cease-fire in the country's eight-year civil war. He didn't provide details of the length or expansion he is seeking ahead of the Aug. 2 expiration of the current two-month truce extension.

Grundberg told the U.N. Security Council that renewing the truce would provide time and the opportunity to start serious discussions on Yemen's economy and security and to begin addressing priority issues such as revenues and payment of salaries.

"I ask the parties to engage with me on these issues with a sense of urgency and flexibility," he said.

The cease-fire between Yemen's internationally recognized government and Iran-backed Houthi rebels initially took effect April 2 and was extended June 2. Though each side at times accused the other of violating the truce, it was the first nationwide halt in fighting in the past six years of the conflict in the Arab World's most impoverished nation.

"To date, the truce has been holding for over three months," Grundberg said.

Civilian casualties have been reduced by two-thirds, compared to the three months before the truce began, he said. And since the renewal of the truce June 2, seven fuel ships carrying nearly 200,000 metric tons of various fuel products have been cleared to enter Yemen's main port of Hodeida.

Since the start of the truce, 15 commercial round-trip flights have transported almost 7,000 passengers between Yemen's capital, Sanaa, and the Jordanian capital, Amman, Grundberg added. He said discussions are under way with Egyptian authorities about regular flights to Cairo.

Under the truce, the parties committed to meet to agree on road openings, including lifting the Houthis' ground blockade of Taiz, Yemen's third largest city. Grundberg said the Houthis rejected the latest U.N. proposal on a phased opening but his efforts to reach a solution will continue.

"An agreement on road openings in Taiz and other governorates would be momentous, and its benefits would reverberate across Yemen," he said.

The U.N. envoy expressed concern at "worrisome escalatory rhetoric by the parties questioning the benefits of the truce" in recent weeks.

He called this "a dangerous move," urged the parties to halt such rhetoric, and warned that the alternative to the truce "is a return to hostilities and likely an intensified phase of conflict with all of its predictable consequences or Yemeni civilians and regional security."

Grundberg said the U.N. continues to receive reports from both sides about alleged incidents including direct and indirect fire, drone attacks, recoonnaissance overflights and new fortifications.

"The parties are also allegedly sending reinforcements to main front lines including in Marib, Hodeida and Taiz," he said.

Fighting in Yemen erupted in 2014, when the Houthis descended from their northern enclave and took over the capital, forcing the government to flee into exile in Saudi Arabia. A Saudi-led coalition entered the war in early 2015 to try to restore the government to power.

The conflict, which eventually descended into a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has killed over 150,000 people, including over 14,500 civilians, and created one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, pushing millions of Yemenis to the brink of famine.

Joyce Msuya , assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told the council that the Yemeni rial is still falling and "many more families are going hungry again."

But she said the U.N. World Food Program was forced to cut rations for millions of people several weeks ago because the U.N. appeal for $4.27 billion for humanitarian aid for Yemen this year has received just over $1.1 billion.

In addition, Msuya said, a U.N. verification and inspection system created in 2016 to facilitate vital commercial imports to Yemen is also running out of money and will shut down in September unless it gets $3.5 million to cover operations for the year's final months.