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UN envoy in Yemen ceasefire talks amid coronavirus threat

DUBAI, UAE (AFP) – The United Nations envoy to Yemen said Thursday he was engaged in talks with the country’s warring parties to secure a nationwide ceasefire to help counter the threat of the coronavirus.

Martin Griffiths’ office said he is discussing “concrete steps” with the warring sides despite a recent escalation in the long conflict.

Yemen has so far not recorded any case of COVID-19, but aid groups are concerned that when or if it does hit, the impact will be catastrophic for a country already facing what the U.N. calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Griffiths is in daily consultations aimed at bringing the warring sides together in “virtual” negotiations as soon as possible, a statement from his office said.

“I hope that these consultations can be soon completed and deliver what Yemenis expect, demand and deserve,” it quoted the envoy as saying.

The United Nations has issued a global call for armed groups to stand down during the pandemic.

The Yemen government and Houthi rebels had responded positively to the appeal, together with Saudi Arabia which leads a military coalition that supports the government.

However, last week Saudi air defenses intercepted ballistic missiles fired by the Iran-aligned Houthis over Riyadh and a city on the Yemen border. Two civilians were wounded in the curfew-locked Saudi capital.

Yemen’s government condemned the attack, which it said undermined efforts to scale down the five-year conflict.

Griffiths said he was in regular contact with both parties “on reaching agreements on a nationwide ceasefire, humanitarian and economic measures to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people”.

“This process further aims to foster joint efforts to counter the threat of COVID-19,” the statement said.

Saudi Arabia is also scrambling to limit the spread of the disease at home and its health ministry has reported 1,720 coronavirus infections and 16 deaths from the illness so far.

Tens of thousands of Yemenis has been killed in more than five years of fighting that has devastated the impoverished Arab nation.

UN Security Council renews Yemen sanctions regime for another year

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