NEW YORK: The UN special envoy for Yemen on Tuesday told Arab News that any attempt to settle the country’s conflict through violence is “unhelpful,” and that a long-term settlement can only be achieved through direct negotiations.
Hans Grundberg was commenting on the Houthi militia’s several drone attacks in the past two months that targeted Yemeni government ports, including one that hit a Greek oil tanker near Al-Dubba oil terminal in Hadramawt governorate.
The Houthis justified the attack as a warning to the government not to use the terminal to export oil. The UN Security Council condemned the attacks.
Similar drone attacks later targeted the Rudum oil terminal, and then the southern Qena port in Shabwah governorate.
This resulted in further condemnation from the UNSC, which called on the Houthis to renew the truce they had abandoned.
Grundberg, who had also condemned these attacks, described the Houthi escalation as “part of the overall elements of the conflict.”
He told Arab News: “My point here is that this conflict needs to be settled through negotiations. And that’s why any attempt to settle the conflict through violent exchange, no matter how that violent exchange takes place, is unhelpful, especially given the fact that we’ve seen a conflict that has lasted for seven to eight years.
“More violence isn’t going to lead to a long-term settlement. That can only be achieved through negotiations, and that’s what we’re pushing for and hope to achieve at a certain moment.”
Grundberg’s comments followed a UNSC meeting on Yemen during which he briefed member states on the latest developments in the war-torn country.
He warned council members that Houthi attacks in recent weeks, by depriving the Yemeni government of its main source of revenue from exporting oil, “have significant economic repercussions.”
He added: “Attacks on oil infrastructure and threats to oil companies undermine the welfare of the entirety of the Yemeni people (and risk) setting off a spiral of military and economic escalation, (and) are prohibited by international humanitarian law.”
Grundberg also underscored that what he called “a concerning uptick” in incidents in Marib and Taiz, including civilian casualties, demonstrate how fragile the situation remains.
He again called on parties to “urgently reach an agreement to renew the truce,” and meanwhile “exercise maximum restraint during this critical time.”
Even though the violent flareups “fortunately” have not escalated into full-fledged war, Grundberg warned that further deterioration of the economic and humanitarian situations hang in the balance.
Since the two-month UN-brokered truce expired on Oct. 2, the UN has intensified its efforts to try to revive it, while also pushing for a comprehensive settlement.
Grundberg has in the past two months visited Riyadh twice — meeting with Yemeni government and Saudi officials — and Oman, where he met with senior Omani officials and the chief Houthi negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam. However, these talks have not produced any breakthroughs.
In the run up to the truce’s expiration, Grundberg had proposed a plan for the extension and expansion of the agreement, which entailed the payment of civil servants’ salaries and pensions.
The Houthis’ demand that their military and security forces be included in the salary payments of civil servants prevented agreement on the deal.
As Grundberg continued with his shuttle diplomacy, there have also been reports of direct talks over the past weeks between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia, including some facilitated by Oman.
Last month, a Houthi delegation visited the Saudi city of Abha, and a Saudi delegation went to Sanaa.
The Arab Coalition said the delegations visited prisoners of war as part of a confidence-building measure geared toward extending the truce.
“Any direct contact between belligerent parties in any conflict is welcome,” Grundberg told Arab News. “(It) should be encouraged that the parties should talk to each other. Obviously, that can be done in different ways. But what we’re looking for here is an approach which, in the end, requires a process under the UN auspices.
“So any talks that are carried out in support of my efforts are always welcome. And this is something that I repeat to the countries in the region, I repeat to the council, and so on, and this is what we’re having right now.
“We have different engagements on different levels, through different channels that support the efforts of the United Nations, and that’s something that I think is helpful.”
Asked to clarify what obstacles are hampering the implementation of his plan to “extend and expand” the truce, Grundberg declined to reveal details of talks that took place behind closed doors, saying although “foreign policy should be made in the open because the population needs to understand what that foreign policy represents, negotiations, on the other hand, should be kept in a discrete setting.
“So I’m not going to enter into outlining the issues in detail on where we stand on these negotiations, because that needs some level of trust and confidentiality in order to deliver results.”
But he said on a broader level, the main challenges lie in finding ways to frame issues related to economic matters such as the payment of salaries, but also broader issues “which have an implication on the long-term settlement of the conflict.”
By emphasizing the importance of “broadening” the issue, Grundberg said: “It’s a way for me to remind everyone that the truce in itself isn’t the end game. It can’t be seen as the long-term solution.
“The long-term solution is a return to a political process where the parties engage on long-term settlement of the conflict.
“That necessitates a broader approach, and that’s what we’re also looking for and engaging with the parties on.”