UN envoy in talks for Yemen ceasefire over coronavirus



A Yemeni volunteer sprays disinfectant over garbage in one of Sanaa's impoverished neighbourhoods on March 30th, amid concerns of a novel coronavirus outbreak. [Mohamed Huwais/AFP]

The UN envoy to Yemen said Thursday (April 2nd) he was engaged in talks with the country's warring parties to secure a nationwide ceasefire to help counter the threat of novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Martin Griffiths' office said he is discussing "concrete steps" with the warring sides despite a recent escalation in the long conflict.

Yemen has so far not recorded any cases of COVID-19, but aid groups are concerned that when or if it does hit, the impact will be catastrophic for a country already facing what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Griffiths is in daily consultations aimed at bringing the warring sides together in "virtual" negotiations as soon as possible, a statement from his office said.

"I hope that these consultations can be soon completed and deliver what Yemenis expect, demand and deserve," it quoted the envoy as saying.

The UN has issued a global call for armed groups to stand down during the pandemic.

The Yemen government and Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) had responded positively to the appeal, together with Saudi Arabia which leads a military coalition that supports the government.

However, last week Saudi air defences intercepted ballistic missiles fired by the Houthis over Riyadh and a city on the Yemen border. Two civilians were wounded in the curfew-locked Saudi capital.

Yemen's government condemned the attack, which it said undermined efforts to scale down the five-year conflict.

Griffiths said he was in regular contact with both parties "on reaching agreements on a nationwide ceasefire, humanitarian and economic measures to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people".

"This process further aims to foster joint efforts to counter the threat of COVID-19," the statement said.

Saudi Arabia is also scrambling to limit the spread of the disease at home and its health ministry has reported 1,720 coronavirus infections and 16 deaths from the illness so far.

Tens of thousands of Yemenis have been killed in more than five years of fighting that has devastated the impoverished Arab nation.

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