UN Envoy Urges Yemenis to Avoid Battlefield Return

The United Nations

After months of relative stability in Yemen between Government and Houthi forces, a return to all-out war is looking inevitable unless the current escalation in violence is halted, the top UN envoy for the country said on Thursday.

Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Yemen Hans Grundberg warned ambassadors in the Security Council that recent months have seen a "gradual increase" in fighting in several locations, as well as consistent threats by all sides to return to war.

If the parties continue the current escalatory trajectory the "question is not if, but when", they return to the battlefield, he added.

A Saudi-led coalition siding with Government forces have been embroiled in fighting with the Houthis and their allies since 2015 but a UN-brokered ceasefire which lapsed in 2022, continued to hold for months as peace talks continued.

Mediation efforts have stalled and with the onset of the war in Gaza, the Houthis pledged out of solidarity to attack what they deemed to be pro-Israeli shipping interests along the Red Sea coast using the Suez Canal.

The situation remains unresolved, with the Houthis - formally known as Ansar Allah - having increased its strikes on commercial and military ships.

For its part, a United States (US)-led coalition defending shipping in the Red Sea has continued its airstrikes in areas controlled by Houthis in Hudaydah, the capital Sana'a and Ta'iz.

Special Envoy Hans Grundberg (on screen) briefing the Security Council via video link.
Special Envoy Hans Grundberg (on screen) briefing the Security Council via video link.

Crackdown on UN, NGOs

Mr. Grundberg also highlighted the precarious situation for the civil society, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as the UN, who have become the target of a crackdown by Ansar Allah.

Last week, 13 UN personnel, five staff members of international NGOs, and many more from national NGOs and civil society were detained by the group. They remain in incommunicado detention, adding to four UN staff members who have been held since 2021 and 2023 (two each year) respectively.

"The United Nations is present to serve Yemenis. Such arbitrary detentions are not the expected signal of an actor who is seeking a mediated solution to conflict," the Special Envoy said, calling for the immediate of all UN and NGO personnel.

Zero-sum game

He went on to note that despite his efforts to advance on a process leading to a peaceful resolution to the conflict, the warring parties in Yemen "have reverted to a zero-sum game".

"Instead of putting the Yemenis first, they have opted for measures they believe will strengthen their own position. This risks jeopardizing the viability of the commitments made earlier."

The zero-sum game is most evident in the dire economic situation.

The banking system in disarray and financial institutions in Ansar Allah-controlled Sana'a are cut off from international systems, impacting trade and remittances.

Director Edem Wosornu briefing the Security Council.
Director Edem Wosornu briefing the Security Council.

Catastrophic ramifications

Elaborating on the banking crisis, Edem Wosornu, the Director of Operations at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), warned of the catastrophic ramifications, including serious repercussions for humanitarian relief operations.

A potentially imminent decision to exclude banks based in Sana'a from using the SWIFT banking system would prevent the banks there from facilitating international financial transactions.

Together with other issues plaguing the sector, this threatens to further fragment and weaken Yemen's already struggling economy, she said, likely worsening poverty and hunger, and increasing reliance on humanitarian assistance.

"The increasingly volatile banking environment has worsened an existing liquidity crisis, making it very difficult for humanitarian organizations to pay staff salaries or to procure and pay for the many services they rely on for their operations," she said, calling for urgent solutions from the international community to alleviate the crisis.

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