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Yemen: Renewed truce is 'tangible shift' in conflict, says UN envoy

Hans Grundberg says two-month truce between Houthi rebels and Yemeni government is holding, to the surprise of many
UN special envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg speaks at the Yemen International Forum in Stockholm, on 17 June 2022 (Sanaa Centre for Strategic Studies)
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Stockholm

A truce between Yemen's warring parties that was extended earlier this month marks the first "tangible shift" in the conflict since it started, the United Nations special envoy has said, calling on Yemenis to build on an unanticipated moment of opportunity.

The UN-brokered truce between the Yemeni government and the Houthi movement, which went into effect in April, was renewed for another two months on 2 June. 

"The truce is holding and this is to the surprise of many analysts who are out here... and I have to say that I'm also surprised at the commitment that the parties have shown, despite all the challenges," Hans Grundberg said on Friday at the Yemen International Forum in Stockholm, organised by the Sanaa Centre for Strategic Studies and the Folke Bernadotte Academy.

"We know that it is fragile. Yes, it's far from perfect, but it is holding."

Grundberg said that the warring parties have been holding direct UN-backed meetings in the Jordanian capital of Amman for the first time in a year and called on Yemenis to "give peace a serious chance".

Under the ceasefire, commercial flights have resumed from Sanaa airport to Amman and Cairo, while oil tankers have also been able to dock in the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah, Yemen's lifeline.

Grundberg pointed out that some of the participants in the conference, which has brought together political actors, experts and representatives of civil society organisations, have travelled to Stockholm on one of the first commercial flights from the capital Sanaa in six years.

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"This is a commitment to all Yemenis. It gives the Yemeni population a much-needed sense of respite and restores a sense of hope that this war can come to an end," he said.

The Swedish diplomat has been trying to persuade Houthi leaders to abide by one of the provisions in the truce agreement to ease their siege of the southwestern city of Taiz, and withdraw their troops from at least one main road, sources told Reuters last week. 

The Houthis have argued that the Hawban road in Taiz governorate is a front line and that the redeployment of forces was not part of the agreement.

The war in Yemen erupted in September 2014 when the Houthis seized Sanaa, sparking a civil war that forced then-president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi to seek refuge in Aden and then later Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom and its allies intervened in March 2015 and have since carried out more than 22,000 air strikes in an effort to roll back the rebels, with one-third striking non-military sites, including schools, factories and hospitals, according to the Yemen Data Project.

According to UN estimates, 377,000 people will have died in the protracted conflict by the end of 2022, an estimated four million have been displaced, and 80 percent of the country's 29 million people are dependent on aid for survival.

The UN has declared it the "world's worst humanitarian crisis," as heavy artillery and air strikes have hampered access to health care and increased pressure on the few facilities that are still functioning.