April 3, 2018 / 8:49 AM / 17 days ago

U.N. chief urges warring Yemeni parties to reach peace deal

GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the warring sides in Yemen on Tuesday to reach a political settlement to end a conflict now in its fourth year that has left 22 million people in urgent need of aid.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrives for the High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen, in Geneva, Switzerland, April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

His Special Envoy Martin Griffiths will head to the United Arab Emirates, Oman and the Yemeni government-held city of Aden in the drive for peace, Guterres told reporters.

Griffiths has already held talks with both sides in the war which has drawn in regional powers, meeting Houthi authorities who hold the capital Sanaa as well as internationally-recognised Yemeni president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and Saudi officials in Riyadh.

Guterres said he saw “positive perspectives” for preparing a plan of action “to lead to an effective inter-Yemeni dialogue able to achieve a political solution, with of course the involvement of all those that are relevant in this conflict”.

“I am optimistic about that possibility,” the United Nations chief added.

The war has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced more than 2 million and driven the country to the verge of famine.

Guterres was speaking on the sidelines of a U.N. pledging conference a day after an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition that supports Hadi’s government killed 12 civilians in the coastal city of Hodeidah. Houthi forces later targeted Saudi Arabia’s southern border area with a missile.

He announced that more than $2 billion has been pledged towards a U.N. humanitarian appeal of $3 billion for Yemen this year. It includes $930 million from Saudi Arabia and the UAE which lead the coalition air strikes.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden and Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate Isabella Lovin during the High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen, in Geneva, Switzerland, April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

“As important as the financial contributions to the conference is the commitment of parties to the conflict to come together to put an end to the war,” Guterres said.

When the Houthis fired missiles at Riyadh last November, the Western-backed coalition responded by shutting Yemen’s airports and ports. The U.N. said that blockade raised the danger of mass starvation and it was partially lifted.

Guterres told the conference: “All ports must remain open to humanitarian and commercial cargo, the medicines, food and the fuel needed to deliver them.”

Most humanitarian aid enters Yemen through Hodeidah but the government accuses Houthis who control the port of smuggling weapons through it.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdel-Malek al-Mekhlafi called for a return to the negotiating table and said that his government was working to open ports and airports to aid.

“We need to find the ideal solution which is a return to the talks table, to put an end the war, to return to a sustainable system supported by the people of Yemen,” he said, adding that this should include “the putschist parties” - referring to the Houthis - and those supported by the international community.

A sign of the High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen is pictured in Geneva, Switzerland, April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, called for a ceasefire and end to the war.

“We also ask Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran - who are supporting opposing sides - and for that matter, the United Kingdom, the United States, who are earning enormous sums of money on arms sales to this conflict, to push the parties to the table,” he told Reuters.

Reporting and writing by Stephanie Nebehay; additional reporting by Sami Aboudi in Dubai; editing by John Stonestreet and David Stamp

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