UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. special envoy for Yemen said Tuesday he is not only trying to renew and expand the truce that expired last month but to get the warring parties to initiate talks on a path toward a settlement of the eight-year conflict.
Hans Grundberg told the U.N. Security Council that he outlined ideas and options to the internationally recognized government and Houthi rebels and has been in constant contact with them on the issues that prevented an extension of the truce.
“And these discussions are making progress and they are ongoing,” he told reporters later.
Pressed on what the obstacles are, he refused to elaborate, stressing the need for discreet diplomacy and saying only: “We are seeing challenges in how to frame issues related to the economic matters such as the payment of salaries, and also broader issues which have an implication on the more long-term settlement of the conflict.”
The U.N.-backed truce initially took effect in April and raised hopes for a longer pause in fighting than six months.
Yemen's devastating conflict began in 2014, when the Iranian-backed Houthis seized the capital of Sanaa and much of northern Yemen and forced the government into exile. A Saudi-led coalition including the United Arab Emirates intervened in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognized government to power.
Grundberg told the council that in the seven weeks since the truce expired, “despite incidents of concern, we have fortunately not seen a return to full-fledged war.”
In recent weeks, however, he said the Houthis have attacked oil terminals and ports “with the aim of depriving the government of Yemen of its main source of revenue from exporting oil.”
Grundberg warned that these attacks “have significant economic repercussions,” undermine the welfare of the Yemeni people and “risk setting off a spiral of military and economic escalation, a pattern we have seen play out before over the course of Yemen’s war.”
While overall violence has only increased slightly since the six-month truce, he reported “a concerning uptick in incidents” with civilian casualties in Marib, which the Houthis have long attempted to seize, and in Yemen's third largest city, Taiz.
These attacks “demonstrate how fragile the situation remains and underscores, once more, the need for the parties to urgently reach an agreement to renew the truce,” he said.
Reena Ghelani, the operations director in the U.N. humanitarian office, told the council that earlier this month four displaced civilians were killed and at least five injured when a weapons storage facility exploded in Marib due to fighting, and in the last week of October shelling and sniper fire killed two civilians and injured eight others, many of them children, in Taiz.
She said land mines and unexploded ordnance continue to account for the largest number of civilian casualties, killing and injuring more than 164 people, including 74 children, between July and September.
Ghelani stressed that threats to civilians extend beyond the immediate impact of the war.
“Hunger continues to haunt more than half the population in Yemen, preying on the most vulnerable,” she said, and “17 million people still do not know where they will get their next meal.”
The delivery of aid has also been hampered over recent months, Ghelani said, because the Houthis have imposed restrictions that have especially impacted female staff and beneficiaries, “leaving us less room to operate.”
Ghelani said some never make it because of their flimsy and overcrowded vessels including a raft that sank last month leaving three people dead and 28 missing.