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UN: Yemeni groups on verge of peace when Saudi bombed

Yemeni parties had reached substantial agreement on power-sharing when Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes, says outgoing envoy
UN envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar at the swearing in ceremony of Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi in 2012 (AFP)

NEW YORK - The outgoing UN envoy on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, has told the UN Security Council that rival Yemeni groups were on the verge of a peace deal before Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes last month and declared that “outside interference” will only worsen the conflict.

Benomar, who is stepping down amid sharp criticism from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, said the UN had hosted more than 200 meetings between Yemen’s rival groups and were close to a deal when Saudi launched a bombing campaign against iran-linked Houthi rebels at the end of March.

“The Yemeni parties continued to negotiate under UN auspices and substantial agreement had been reached on the core element of a power-sharing agreement. The main sticking point was the issue of the presidency,” Benomar told reporters at UN headquarters on Monday.

“The Yemenis were very close to an agreement and that they could have concluded … achieving lasting peace in Yemen could only be led through Yemeni-led peaceful negotiations, where Yemenis could determine their future free from interference and coercion from outside forces.”

Benomar, a Moroccan diplomat, briefed council members for the last time on Monday following his resignation earlier this month after losing the support of Gulf countries for his mediation efforts as Shiite Houthi rebels pushed their offensive. 

He will be replaced by Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who until now has led the UN’s Ebola mission in West Africa and previously served as the UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen from 2012 to 2014.

Yemen’s peace talks collapsed after the Houthis captured the capital Sanaa and advanced on the southern city of Aden, forcing President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi into exile in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. The UN hopes to re-launch negotiations but has run into hurdles over the venue for meetings, with Saudi Arabia insisting that the talks be held in Riyadh.

A Saudi-led coalition launched airstrikes on 26 March to push back the Houthi advance and restore Hadi’s authority, but the military operation has raised international alarm over what some see as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which has been accused of supporting th Houthis, and a mounting civilian death toll.

Yemen's UN ambassador, Khaled Alyemany, said earlier this month that Benomar had not paid enough attention to the government of Hadi, Yemen’s internationally recognised leader, and “had started to promote the Houthis, and we cannot accept that”. 

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