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article imageUN envoy in Yemen for talks with rebels on port

By AFP     Jul 2, 2018 in World

The UN envoy for Yemen was in Sanaa on Monday for talks with rebels aimed at finding a solution to fighting in the port city of Hodeida, which the insurgents hold.

Martin Griffiths is set to meet with the Iran-allied Huthi rebels, who control the capital along with the Red Sea city of Hodeida, home to the country's most valuable port.

The British diplomat did not make a statement upon his arrival at the Yemeni capital's international airport.

Griffiths had already been leading UN diplomatic efforts on ending Yemen's three-year conflict when a UAE-backed government offensive was launched to retake Hodeida port on June 13.

The UAE, which is part of a Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting on the government's side since March 2015, has been demanding the rebels withdraw from both the port and city to avoid a military assault on densely-populated Hodeida.

"The UN special envoy (is) expected... to sit down with the militia group (Huthis) to try and find a political solution and to achieve a general framework for negotiations​," said Turki al-Maliki, a spokesman for a Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

"The Huthis are yet to change their position," he said on Monday, referring to the coalition demand for their withdrawal.

"The operation continues to put pressure to change the position" of the Huthis, he added.

Two weeks of UN shuttle diplomacy have not yet found a solution to the offensive on Hodeida, backed by the United Arab Emirates and its allies supporting President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

- Fears for civilians -

The Hodeida offensive has raised fears for civilians in a country already devastated by years of war between the Huthis and Hadi's Gulf-backed government.

The United Arab Emirates said Sunday it had halted the offensive to give a chance to UN diplomatic efforts.

Hodeida port is the entry point for some 70 percent of imports to Yemen, where eight million people face imminent famine.

Both the UAE and the Hadi government have held firm to their rejection of anything short of a full Huthi withdrawal.

Griffiths has said a proposal to grant the UN a major role in managing the port was being studied.

The envoy met with Hadi in the southern city of Aden on Wednesday and is reported to be pushing for the Huthis to cede control of Hodeida to the United Nations.

He was also in Oman on Thursday, where he met top rebel negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam, UN radio reported.

The Huthis have controlled Hodeida and its port since 2014, when they also drove the Hadi government out of the capital and seized large swathes of northern Yemen.

That sparked a Saudi-led intervention to prop up Hadi's government, since which some 10,000 people have died.

The fight for Hodeida has claimed 429 lives, according to military and medical sources.

There are no confirmations of civilian casualties, although the UN has documented thousands of residents fleeing combat zones.

The United Nations has called Yemen the world's largest humanitarian crisis.

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