AL-MUKALLA: All Yemen parties should offer concessions and come together for peace talks sponsored by the UN Yemen envoy, British Ambassador to Yemen Michael Aron has said in an exclusive interview with Arab News.
They should strive to reach a peace agreement that would end the war in Yemen and the worsening humanitarian disaster there, he said.
“Everyone will have to compromise to end the war and reach an agreement, both of which are in the interests of the people of Yemen,” he said. “My P5 colleagues (permanent members of the Security Council) and I are working hard together to ensure that all parties come with an open mind and willingness to find a solution.”
The British envoy, who was appointed ambassador to Yemen in February 2018, said that his government has opposed the Houthi occupation of the Yemeni capital since day one and supported the legitimate government of Yemen in restoring institutions.
“We opposed the Houthi occupation of Sanaa and its attempt to take over the government. We support the restoration of the legitimate government of Yemen.”
Despite diplomatic efforts by the UN Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths to convince warring factions in Yemen to come to the negotiation table, fighting has surged over the past several months, killing hundreds of people and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis.
“Regrettably, the situation remains dire,” Aron said. “We support the special envoy and all of his efforts to bring the parties closer together. We help where we can, talking to the parties, rallying the international community, and as pen-holders on the Security Council.”
On his country’s contributions to alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Aron said that the UK had donated £1 billion over the past few years, including £160 million through the latest pledging conference. Politically, he wants to push Yemenis into constructively engaging with the UN peace efforts.
“My job is to support the parties to work together, but also highlight where they are not helping — access restrictions by the Houthis in the north are a key concern for the UK.”
The UK ambassador hailed Saudi Arabia’s large donations to Yemen and its role in facilitating the UN- brokered peace efforts aimed at ending Yemen war.
“Saudi Arabia is the biggest donor and has shown leadership in this not only with money but by hosting the conference. They are committed to a peaceful solution and will continue to provide huge amounts of aid to support the Yemeni people,” he said.
“Saudi Arabia and the Saudi-led coalition have a vital role to play in Yemen. Saudi Arabia is working closely with the UN special envoy in support of his peace efforts, which they fully support.”
The Saudi-led coalition and the internationally recognized government agreed to stop fighting in response to a UN call for a humanitarian truce to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The Houthis have escalated military operations on the ground that hampered efforts to stem the spread of the disease, he said.
“We regret the fact that, despite the Saudi announcement of a unilateral cease-fire, the Houthis have continued to pursue their military campaigns. We hope that the Houthis will recognize that the UN proposals offer the only way out of the current desperate situation,” he said.
The British ambassador advised the government of Yemen (GoY) and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) who are engaging in heavy clashes in the southern province of Abyan, to put into place the Riyadh Agreement and work with Saudi Arabia to resolve the conflict.
“The focus needs to be on implementing the Riyadh Agreement, and the STC coming to Riyadh is very helpful to that end. But President Hadi also needs to take decisive steps to implement the Riyadh Agreement. The GoY and the STC need to work with Saudi Arabia to resolve their differences,” he said.
“By implementing it the GoY and STC will be in a situation where they are united in a newly formed government where they both feel they have adequate representation. The STC have been demanding a place at the UN talks and the Riyadh Agreement offers them a place at the table as part of the GoY delegation.”
Despite the escalating violence across Yemen and deadly missile and drone attacks by the Iran-backed Houthis on Saudi Arabia, Aron believes that there is still an opportunity for a comprehensive agreement to end the war. “Yes. The alternative does not bear thinking about. Yemen has already been set back a number of years, the coronavirus will not help either. The leaders need to do what is best for the people and get an agreement that allows Yemen to build for all its citizens,” he said.
Aron urged the Houthis to be more transparent about the coronavirus pandemic and allow local and international health experts to work freely inside areas under their control.
“We understand that the situation is far worse; this is from those who want to help and are trying to,” he said. “Let experts in to do their jobs, grant them the necessary access and take their advice. The population has suffered and will suffer further and unnecessarily unless there is cooperation.”
The ambassador concluded the interview by warning that the Safer tanker, docked off the Yemeni city of Hodeida, would cause an environmental disaster worse than the damage caused by the recent spillage of 20,000 tons of fuel in Russia’s Siberia if the Houthis did not allow experts to resolve the problems there.
“The threat to the environment in the Red Sea is enormous, and will impact on all the countries who share this coastline. We urgently need to allow UN experts to board the craft, assess the condition and take the necessary steps to secure the vessel and prevent the oil from leaking,” he said. “It is vital all parties, particularly the Houthis, cooperate to stabilize the Safer tanker.”