The warring parties in Yemen have made a “significant progress” towards agreeing to a ceasefire, the United Nations’ Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths has told the UN Security Council.
Griffiths on Thursday gave the government of Yemen and the Houthi rebels – who have been fighting for more than five years – draft proposals on a nationwide ceasefire, humanitarian and economic measures, and the urgent resumption of the political process.
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“We have seen significant progress on these negotiations, in particular with respect to the national, nationwide ceasefire,” Griffiths told the 15-member UN Security Council.
“However, the ceasefire is part of the broader package that needs to be agreed in full. And differences remain on some of the humanitarian and economic measures in that package.”
Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Houthi group removed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government from the capital Sanaa in 2014.
A Saudi-led military coalition in 2015 intervened in a bid to restore the government.
The Arabian Peninsula country is divided between the Saudi-backed government in the south and the Iran-aligned Houthi movement that controls Sanaa and most large urban centres.
“The people of Yemen are right to be frustrated about the slow pace of these negotiations. We all hope to see these negotiations soon come to a successful close,” Griffiths said.
Pandemic worsens situation
Griffiths made a renewed push for a truce in Yemen after a call by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on March 23 for a ceasefire in global conflicts so the world could focus on fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
Yemen’s Saudi-backed government on Thursday reported the first cases of novel coronavirus in the southern province of Al Dhalea.
The government’s coronavirus committee said on Twitter that seven more cases have been confirmed in the port city of Aden, where it is based, and that Al Dhalea had recorded its first three infections, bringing the total in areas under its control to 85 cases with 12 deaths.
“The situation is dangerous and requires united efforts by all to face this pandemic,” the Aden-based committee had said on Wednesday, urging local authorities to comply with precautionary measures.
Griffiths said humanitarian and economic measures were needed to combat the virus “which is spreading at an unknown rate, given very low levels of testing”.
“He was clearly very frustrated,” Al Jazeera’s Diplomatic Editor James Bays said while reporting from New York, referring to Griffiths.
Around 80 percent of Yemen’s population – 24 million people – need humanitarian aid.
Aid groups fear a catastrophic outbreak of the coronavirus given Yemen’s shattered health system and widespread hunger and disease after years of conflict.
Deputy UN aid chief Ramesh Rajasingham said there were 72 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Yemen, including 13 deaths.
The World Health Organization on Monday said the virus “has been circulating undetected and unmitigated in Yemen for some weeks,” increasing the likelihood that a surge in infections could overwhelm the country’s health system.