US slams Yemen Houthi militias for snubbing UN envoy

The State Department said in a statement that the Houthis had “passed up a major opportunity” by rejecting a recent offer to speak with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths in Oman.
Saturday 08/05/2021
United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths speaks during a news conference following talks at the German Foreign ministry in Berlin, April 12, 2021. (AFP)
United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths speaks during a news conference following talks at the German Foreign ministry in Berlin, April 12, 2021. (AFP)

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration lashed out at Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militias on Friday for refusing to meet with a senior UN official to discuss ending the country’s devastating conflict and speeding humanitarian relief to suffering civilians.

The State Department said in a statement that the Houthis had “passed up a major opportunity” by rejecting a recent offer to speak with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths in Oman. Griffiths had been travelling in the Middle East earlier this week and was accompanied for part of the time by US envoy Timothy Lenderking, other senior administration officials and members of Congress.

The department said other parties to the conflict, including the internationally recognised government of Yemen, are ready to discuss a peace proposal. It said the Houthis should immediately engage with Griffiths to consider the peace plan, calling it “a fair deal on the table that will bring immediate relief to the Yemeni people.”

Humanitarian crisis

The department said the Houthi position was making what is already the world’s most dire humanitarian crisis even worse, particularly in Yemen’s Marib region where they are currently conducting an offensive.

Security forces loyal to Yemen’s Houthi rebels stand guard during a rally,in Sana’a. (AFP)
Security forces loyal to Yemen’s Houthi rebels stand guard during a rally,in Sana’a. (AFP)

“Contradictory to their pronouncements regarding the humanitarian situation in Yemen, the Houthis worsen it by continuing to attack Marib and exacerbating dire conditions for already vulnerable, internally displaced Yemenis,” the statement said.

“With the growing international consensus and momentum toward ending the conflict in Yemen without further delay, all parties must engage with the UN Special Envoy and address the proposal that is on the table, for the sake of the Yemeni people.”

The escalation in hostilities has displaced 13,600 people in Marib this year, according to the UN refugee agency, putting a heavy strain on the city in the midst of a second coronavirus wave.

Lacking clean water and electricity, the makeshift settlements are overflowing and camp residents say they have repeatedly come under Huthi shelling.

Series of rebukes

The statement was the latest in a series of Biden administration rebukes against the Houthis, who have intensified their attacks in recent months despite the administration removing them from the US list of “foreign terrorist organisations” in February. That move reversed the Trump administration’s designation of the Houthis in January and was aimed at improving humanitarian relief distribution to Yemeni civilians.

In late April, US Special Envoy on Yemen Tim Lenderking said Iran’s support for Yemen’s Houthi movement is “quite significant and it’s lethal” as he called a battle for Yemen’s gas-rich Marib region the single biggest threat to peace efforts.

“Unfortunately all of this is working to very strong effects as we see more and more attacks on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – and potentially other countries – more accuracy and more lethality. So this is a great concern to us,” Lenderking told a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing at the time.

Fighting has intensified in recent days as the Houthis push their offensive to take Marib, which if successful would strengthen the movement’s hand in any future political negotiations.

“This offensive is the single biggest threat to peace efforts and is also having devastating humanitarian consequences. If we do not stop the fighting in Marib now, it will trigger a wave of even greater fighting and instability,” Lenderking said.

The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital of Sana’a by the Houthis. A Saudi-led coalition allied with Yemen’s exiled government has been fighting the militias since March 2015. The conflict has killed over 100,000 people and pushed the Arab world’s poorest country to the brink of famine.