UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. chief is strongly urging Yemen's warring parties to not only renew but expand a truce that expires Sunday, saying it has brought the longest period of relative calm since the conflict began in 2014.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday that the internationally recognized government and Houthi rebels should prioritize the national interests of the Yemeni people and "choose peace for good."
His statement followed a stark warning Tuesday from the U.N. envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, that the risk of a return to fighting "is real."
Yemen's brutal civil war began in 2014 when the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen and forced the government into exile. A Saudi-led coalition entered the war in early 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognized government to power.
The conflict has created one of the world's worst humanitarian crises and over the years turned into a regional proxy war between Saudi Arabia, which backs the government, and Iran, which supports the Houthis. More than 150,000 people have been killed, including over 14,500 civilians.
Both sides accepted the U.N.-brokered truce for two months at the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on April 2. It has been extended twice, and Grundberg and the secretary-general have been pushing both sides for a longer extension to try to start negotiations toward ending the conflict.
"Over the past six months," Guterres said, "the government of Yemen and the Houthis have taken important and bold steps towards peace by agreeing to, and twice renewing, a nationwide truce negotiated by the United Nations."
With the Sunday deadline looming, Guterres strongly urged the parties to expand the duration and terms of the truce in line with a proposal presented by Grundberg that has not been made public.
Nabil Jamel, a government negotiator, said the U.N. proposal includes ways to pay civil servants in Houthi-held territories and reopen roads of blockaded cities, including Taiz.