UN envoy in Yemen for 'sternest' talks on averting famine

The UN Yemen envoy faced his "sternest test" on Wednesday (November 21st) as he flew into Sanaa for talks on averting all-out fighting for the lifeline port of al-Hodeidah and widespread famine, AFP reported.

Under heavy Western pressure, the Yemeni government and its backers have largely suspended an offensive on the Red Sea port city, held by the Houthis (Ansarallah), as UN envoy Martin Griffiths makes the biggest peace push in two years.

UN agencies say up to 14 million Yemenis are at risk of starvation if the port of al-Hodeidah is closed by fighting or damage.

The city is virtually the sole gateway to Sanaa and to territory held by the Houthis in the densely populated highlands, and some 80% of commercial food imports and virtually all UN-supervised humanitarian aid pass through its docks.

Griffiths was expected to hold afternoon talks with Houthi political leaders as he attempts to revive a peace process that collapsed in acrimony in Switzerland in September when the Houthis failed to show up.

The Houthis have said repeatedly they need stronger security guarantees from the international community that they will be given safe passage through the air and sea blockade the Arab coalition has enforced since March 2015.

The international community is demanding in return that the Houthis halt all offensive operations, particularly missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, and commit to joining talks on handing over of the port of al-Hodeidah to UN control.

"Griffiths faces the sternest test of his young tenure," said the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

"If his mediation efforts succeed in preventing a destructive battle for al-Hodeidah, he could build momentum toward reviving a peace process that has been stalled for the past two years,” the think tank said.

"But if he fails, peace in Yemen will look increasingly remote and the prospects for its embattled population increasingly dire."

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