A new round of peace talks between Yemen‘s warring sides should begin by the end of May, the UN mediator said today, as alarm grows over the country’s humanitarian crisis.
UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed told AFP that negotiations were underway to stave off a feared military attack on the vital Red Sea port of Hodeida, in what he hoped would be a first step towards a ceasefire. Averting an attack on Hodeida – the main entry point for desperately needed aid to Yemen – could allow “a real cessation of hostilities and to go back to the talks,” he said.
“We are at the preliminary stage, but time is also a real constraint for us, because my aim is to finish all of this before Ramadan,” he said, adding that he hoped “to enter into a new round of talks before Ramadan.
” Even if Ould Cheikh Ahmed manages to get the parties to the table, any success will be hard-won: since Yemen’s conflict, escalated two years ago, all UN mediation attempts and seven declared ceasefires have failed. “We believe that any military operation on Hodeida will have major humanitarian consequences and could lead to a very high level of civilian casualties,” Ould Cheikh Ahmed said today. At the same time, he said, he was hearing concerns from the coalition that the port was being used to smuggle in weapons.
“We are trying to explore various options by which we can reinforce inspection mechanisms maybe or see how we can minimize the risk of any additional smuggling,” he said.
The UN mediator said the Huthis had voiced interest in his proposals and that he aimed to invite them to a meeting in Oman next month to discuss different options.
“I’m a bit optimistic, because if we are able, as I am hoping, to stop the military operation in Hodeida, I think we are paving the way for new talks,” he said, adding that the negotiations would likely be held in Geneva or Kuwait.