Griffiths's efforts in Yemen continue to spin in a vicious circle

The war in Yemen has entered its fifth year and is at something of a stalemate.
Saturday 06/04/2019
UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths (R) speaks with President of the International Committee of the Red Cross Peter Maurer, in Amman, February 5. (AP)
UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths (R) speaks with President of the International Committee of the Red Cross Peter Maurer, in Amman, February 5. (AP)

LONDON - UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths has been shuttling between the internationally recognised government of Yemen and the Iran-allied Houthi rebels to avert further fighting in Hodeidah, an important port for the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The war in Yemen has entered its fifth year and is at something of a stalemate. A Saudi-led coalition is supporting the government of Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi against the Houthis.

The fighting has created a humanitarian crisis in Yemen with tens of thousands killed and 3 million Yemenis displaced. The government controls southern sections of the country while the Houthis have taken much of northern Yemen. Hodeidah, a main port for ships to deliver humanitarian aid, remains a key point of contention.

Yemeni sources said Griffiths met with a Houthi delegation March 31 in Oman to convince the rebels to implement a redeployment plan calling for the militia to withdraw from Salih and Ras Issa ports and demilitarise the routes in the area.

Houthi negotiator Mohammed Abdul Salam met with Griffiths in Muscat to discuss the peace process stalemate, the Houthi-controlled Saba News Agency reported. Griffiths’s headquarters did not issue statements concerning the meeting, which, observers said, indicated the talks were not going well.

Yemeni sources said that although Oman maintains good relations with the Houthis, Muscat's influence on their decision making is limited and final word lies with Iran.

The sources said Tehran would not allow the Houthis to respond to peace efforts or implement the Swedish Agreement because it wants to keep tensions in Yemen high in response to the involvement of regional countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, and US economic sanctions on Tehran.

"The outcome of Griffiths’s visit to Muscat and his talks with Mohamed Abdul Salam was not as positive as the UN envoy wanted and he again touched the procrastination and the stall tactics of the rebels and their attempts at avoiding the withdrawal of their troops from positions in Hodeidah,” a Yemeni source said.

The Houthis have prohibited work resuming at an important grain warehouse in Hodeidah and briefly detained the head of the UN observer team, retired Danish Lieutenant-General Michael Anker Lollesgaard, local media reported April 3.

More than 100 workers were denied access to the Red Sea mills warehouse, a source in the Saudi-led coalition told Agence France-Presse (AFP). “Unfortunately, the Houthi (rebels) have decided to once again renege on a previous commitment, denying the team access to the mills,” the source said.

The Red Sea Mills are south of Hodeidah on the front line of battles between the Houthis and pro-government forces. In February, a UN team visited the warehouse and said the wheat had been infested with insects and had to be fumigated before being distributed.

Griffiths and UN aid chief Mark Lowcock warned at the time that the grain stored at the mills, which had been inaccessible for five months, was at risk of rotting.

Al-Masdar News reported that the Houthis briefly detained Lollesgaard before permitting him to reach government-controlled areas south of Hodeidah. It was the second time in a week the Houthis had detained Lollesgaard.

Despite sporadic pockets of fighting, the Hodeidah truce, which went into effect in December, has largely held.