Yemen faces an existential threat, says UN special envoy

Yemen faces an existential threat, says UN special envoy

Martin Griffiths urges parties to come to table and forge political agreement

Yemen faces an existential threat, the United Nations special envoy has said as he prepares to brief the United Nations security council on the country’s devastating, multi-faceted conflict.

The UN meeting comes in the wake of disputed claims by Yemen’s Houthi rebels that they fired the drones that caused major devastation at two Saudi oil facilities on Saturday.

More than four years of war between the Iran-backed Houthis and a coalition led by Saudi Arabia has brought Yemen to its knees, with accusations of war crimes on all sides.

In recent months a secessionist movement in the south has emerged that is taking territory from the Saudi-backed government, further complicating the battlefield situation. The secessionists are backed by the United Arab Emirates, a partner in the Saudi fight against the Houthis.

Griffiths told the BBC that Yemen faced “the risk of fragmenting and threatening its own existence, which is a massive threat to stability in the region”.

“In these circumstances what we need to do is waste no more time, but to get to the table to get the political agreement in place to end that conflict”.

He will call at the UN on Monday for all sides to come together to hold wide-ranging political talks on the country’s future, moving on from the narrow focus on security troop withdrawals in the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, the primary focus of his diplomacy since an outline agreement was reached in Stockholm last December.

Diplomats fear Griffiths’s appeal may be ignored if Saudi Arabia joins the US in attributing responsibility for Saturday’s attack to a nexus between the Houthis and Iran. The United Arab Emirates has recently signalled that it is withdrawing some forces from Yemen, and there was hope before Saturday that the Saudis too might wind down their involvement in an unwinnable war.

Griffiths told the BBC he could not personally attribute responsibility for oil facility attack, or substantiate the Houthi claim that they fired the drones into Saudi Arabia.

The US government has produced satellite photo that officials have said show impacts consistent with the attack coming from the direction of Iran or Iraq, rather than from Yemen to the south.

For the Houthi claim of responsibility to be true, their armed drones would have had to fly over nearly 1,000km (621 miles) from Houthi-controlled territory in northwest Yemen across Saudi Arabia to reach their targets in Abqaiq.

Few doubt the Houthis’ drones capabilities have grown more sophisticated since they first claimed in February 2017 they were using drones for reconnaissance, surveying, assessment and early warning missions. But their basic drones do not have this range.

“I really hope the US are right that it did not come from Yemen because it would make it more difficult than even what we are are now facing to resolve the conflict in Yemen,” Griffiths said.

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