Special Envoy’s remarks to the press following closed consultations with the Security Council

OSESGY/Sulafah Alshami

17 May 2022

Special Envoy’s remarks to the press following closed consultations with the Security Council

Thank you very much and good afternoon everyone and as you can imagine I would have wanted to be with you in person today but I had to remain in the region for the implementation of the truce.

As you know, the parties to the conflict in Yemen agreed to enter into a two-months truce which started on April the 2nd this year. And during these past six weeks we have seen considerable positive impact on the daily lives of many Yemenis. Only a couple of months ago, many would have considered this unthinkable. I want to applaud the parties for taking the courageous steps of agreeing to this truce to prioritize alleviating the suffering of the Yemeni people.

Allow me to explain where things stand regarding the implementation of the truce, before turning to the way forward.

First and most importantly, the truce is holding in military terms. Over the past six weeks, civilian casualties have dropped considerably. Fighting has sharply reduced with no aerial attacks emanating from Yemen across its borders and no confirmed airstrikes inside Yemen. Frontlines across Yemen have quietened down significantly. And there are reports of increasing humanitarian access, including in some frontline locations that had previously been extremely difficult to access. However, we continue to see concerning reports of continued fighting involving incidents of civilian casualties despite overall reduction, including in Taiz and Dhale.

Second, the first commercial flight in almost six years took off from Sana’a International Airport and arrived in Jordan just yesterday. Another flight also brought Yemenis back to Sana’a from Amman. I would like to thank the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan for its invaluable support in facilitating yesterday’s flights, and thank the Government of Yemen for its constructive cooperation and for prioritizing the needs of Yemenis. This has brought relief to so many Yemenis who have waited too long to travel, many of them for pressing medical reasons, and to pursue business and educational opportunities, or to reunite with loved ones after years of separation. We are working with all involved to ensure the regularization of flights to and from Sana’a airport for the duration of the Truce and to find durable mechanisms to keep it open. A second flight is now scheduled for tomorrow.

Third, The Government of Yemen has cleared 11 fuel ships to enter through Hudaydah port so far. This amounts to more fuel than during the six months prior to the truce. The fuel crisis that threatened civilians’ access to basic goods and services in Sana’a and surrounding governorates largely subsided.

Fourth, on the commitment to hold the meeting on opening roads in Taiz and other governorates, the Government of Yemen has appointed its focal points for a meeting under UN auspices as per terms of the truce. We intend to organize the meeting in Amman as soon as Ansar Allah appoints their representatives. This is a priority for me and for my Office. As you know, I visited Taiz last year and I witnessed how the continued closure of roads in Taiz increases travel time across Yemen, separates families, and makes struggles out of daily life necessities like going to work, sending children to school, or reaching hospitals. Making progress towards ending this suffering is an essential part of the truce.

The promise of the truce to civilians was one of more security, better access to basic goods and services, and improved freedom of movement within, to and from Yemen. Yemenis can’t afford to go back to the pre-truce state of perpetual military escalation and political stalemate. I continue to engage the parties to overcome outstanding challenges and to ensure the extension of the truce, which is set to expire in two weeks. In this regard, I am grateful for the consistent and robust support of the international community, in advocating for the implementation and the extension of the truce. I would like to note in particular the support provided by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

While the truce is a historic moment in and of itself, it consists of a set of temporary and exceptional measures that need to be underpinned by political process in order to be sustained. Some of the challenges in implementing the truce derive from contentious issues that have been obvious and expected. These need to be addressed in a more comprehensive context beyond the current temporary nature of the truce.

And this is why I am continuing my work on initiating an inclusive multitrack process which will serve as the platform where the parties and other Yemenis can tackle critical issues for more sustainable arrangements and to reach a political settlement. The continued support of the region and the international community including the Security Council will be crucial to make this happen.

Thank you very much Stéphane.

Questions and Answers

Question: Thank you very much, Mr. Grundberg, on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents’ Association. Welcome and thank you very much for doing this briefing. I have a couple of follow up questions. But first and foremost. From the talks and the efforts that you've made over the last six weeks, what is your assessment of the possibility of extending this two-month truce? And what do you see as the biggest obstacles to overcome to extend the truce beyond the two months and perhaps make it more permanent, and as you say to be able to launch a more inclusive political dialogue?

Special Envoy Hans Grundberg: Thank you very much and this is an obvious question and an important one. Thank you very much for that. On the issue of prolonging the truce, as you know, in the agreements that we have made available on the web page of my office, it states clearly that the truce is renewable if the parties so wish. And that is something that I am engaging currently with the parties on in discussion in order to make sure that there is that willingness from both ends. This also will obviously require that some of the elements, that the elements of the truce are fulfilled and that is something which we are or working on relentlessly from my Office.

The departure of the flights from Sana’a airport to Amman yesterday is a critical element. It is something that we have been working hard on, and was something I was personally happy to see, and also was the fruit of serious compromises in order to make it happen and also serious cooperation with the international community, and I am grateful for the support I have received so far. And obviously, another element on which we are working hard on right now is the issue of engaging with the parties on the meeting and on the issue of roads in Taiz and elsewhere in Yemen. And that I think is going to be a priority. But there again, talks about the extension of the truce are ongoing with the parties as we talk right now. Thank you.

Question: Just a quick follow up. Do you have any assessment you can tell us about how these talks are going?

Special Envoy Hans Grundberg: Thank you for that follow up. On this issue, I can say that there is an obvious understanding from the parties’ side about the benefits that the truce presents for the population of Yemen. And that, I think, is crucial. And I think that following almost seven years of war, the trust between the parties requires serious work and serious engagement with me and also the ongoing discussions that we are having. This is what really constitutes the basis for possible renewal. But on the positive end, we have seen an overall implementation of the truce on many parts of all its elements, most importantly on the military aspects and it has given  some serious benefits to the Yemeni population, which I do understand the parties realize, and that is something which I, or part of the discussions that we are having right now and something that I will work on together with them and but there I would not want to go further than that in that response. Thank you.

Question: My name is Ibtisam Azem from Al Arabi Al Jadeed Newspaper. I have just a quick follow up. You said that there are some that most of the elements of the truce were implemented. Which elements were not implemented, and are there obstacles that you are facing now regarding the renewal? And then my question is on the fighting. You said that there are different parts of Yemen where fighting is still going. Could you say a little bit more about that? And is there any prospect to end it? How are the talks are going there? Thank you.

Special Envoy Hans Grundberg: On the issue of the overall implementing of all aspects of the truce, what we are engaging with the parties on right now is negotiations and a meeting between the parties in order to discuss the matter of roads in and around Taiz and in other areas in Yemen, and that, I think, is necessary. But we have gotten positive responses from the parties in order to move forward with that. And I am looking forward to continuing those discussions in order to make sure that that meeting will take place. When it comes to the renewal of the truce, I do not think, nothing stops the parties from renewing the truce no matter what, and that I think is critical for everyone to understand that. That is something on which I will also engage the parties on. And then I think that with the responsibility that we have seen on an overall level from the parties in making some concessions and making difficult compromises in reaching this far, I do hope that we will also move towards an extension of the truce. But that is something that we will rely on in the discussions that my office and I are having with the parties right now.

We receive from the parties reports and allegations of breaches on a daily basis. Since we did not have any independent monitoring on the truce, the efforts I and my office are conducting is an effort of de-escalation and mediation with the parties in this regard. The critical element here is to ensure that if we do see a serious concern to us is to quickly engage with the parties in order to ensure that those matters or concerns, are deescalated but also are not repeated. And that is an ongoing work that we have been conducting over the last six weeks and something that we continue to do. I am, obviously, concerned about the reports that we have civilian casualties in Taiz and Dhaleh as I mentioned in the opening remarks. But we are working to not only to establish, but also to strengthen a channel of communication with us, but also between the parties in this regard. And that, if we see the renewal of the truce, is going to be a critical element moving forward.

Question: First, how do you evaluate the work of the Presidential Council established by President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi? Does Mansour Hadi still have any work to do? Do you contact him? And how do you evaluate also the cooperation of the Southern Transitional Council? Are they cooperating with you in implementing the ceasefire? And if you can say some few words about the crisis of the tanker SAFER and where the crisis now had reached? Thank you very much.

Special Envoy Hans Grundberg: On the matter of the Presidential Leadership Council, as some of you are aware of, I recently visited Aden and I met with members of the Presidential Leadership Council during my recent visit both in the Aden and Riyadh. I have been continuously engaging with them on implementing, strengthening and renewing the truce. I would want to express my thanks to the President of the Council, Dr. Rashad Al Alimi, for the excellent cooperation with him and with a wider Government of Yemen. Through that corporation we have shown tangible results on the truce which has been of benefit for the people of Yemen. In that regard also, I continue to engage with the Presidential Leadership Council and Ansar Allah and other Yemenis on further steps in order to reach sustainable and peaceful and negotiated settlement of the conflict, and that is something that we continue in the in the weeks and months ahead. 

On SAFER, I didn’t hear your question in full.

Question: On the Southern Transitional Council.

Special Envoy Hans Grundberg: Well, I have had even in my previous capacity, excellent relationship with the Southern Transitional Council, most notably with Aidarous Al Zubaidi with whim whom I engaged on a regular basis. So, in that regard, I'm pleased to see that Aidarous Al Zubaidi is part of the Presidential Leadership Council and an important element of Council.

On the matter of SAFER, we obviously, and that goes without saying, remain deeply concerned about the prospects of a major spill or other catastrophic incidents from the SAFER. Here, the United Nations is working on securing the resources necessary to replace SAFER tanker and to ensure the transfer of the oil to a safe Vessel. This work is conducted by the Resident Coordinator David Gressly in good cooperation with The Netherlands. Some 40 million dollars is now available for the UN coordinated plan, which is supported by the parties to the conflict in Yemen and stakeholders. This plan is of two tracks: installing and replacing the vessel within 18 months and four months emergency operation to transfer the oil from the decaying tanker to a safe temporary vessel. And we hope here that the swift resolution of this issue will prevent an environmental and economic catastrophe. I join the secretary general and colleagues at the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in urging all Yemen partners to provide full funding for the UN emergency operation so that we can start immediately.

Question: My question is actually a follow up on the SAFER oil tanker. So, UN recently had a fund-raising event and raised about $40 million. That is what we were told, and you are expressing deep concern about the urgency. Earlier the UN described the situation as a ticking bomb. So, my question is, when you have $40 million ready, why do you still have to wait to offload the tanker? Thank you

Special Envoy Hans Grundberg: Obviously, and I will repeat myself, this issue is not managed by the Office of the Special Envoy. It is an issue that is managed by the Resident Coordinator. So, I will speak under his governance on this matter and there I understand that the overall cost for the transfer of the oil is at around 144 million dollars, if I am rightly informed. And this is required for the emergency operation and that it should ideally start in the second half of this month. And that is why I believe the reason why there is a necessity to see a further funding through on this matter.