Warring sides in Yemen back calls for coronavirus ceasefire

By: AFP      Published: 02:15 AM, 27 Mar, 2020
Warring sides in Yemen back calls for coronavirus ceasefire
Rebel Houthi fighters in Yemen.– AFP file photo

All sides in Yemen's long conflict offered support on Thursday for the United Nations' call for a ceasefire to protect civilians from the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The move came on the fifth anniversary of regional power Saudi Arabia's intervention in Yemen's civil war, at the helm of a military coalition supporting the internationally recognised government against the Iran-backed Huthi rebels. 

Yemen's broken healthcare system has not so far recorded a case of the COVID-19 illness, but aid groups have warned that when it does hit, the impact will be catastrophic in a country already regarded as facing the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Millions of people have been displaced and diseases including cholera are widespread due to the scarcity of clean water.

Saudi Arabia, the Yemeni government and the rebels all welcomed the appeal from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who this week called for an "immediate global ceasefire" to help avert disaster for vulnerable people in conflict zones.

However, the Yemen conflict has been punctuated by failed agreements, and negotiating a pause could be very difficult. None of the parties to the conflict spelt out any mechanism for the process.

The government of Yemen said in a statement that it "welcomes the call of the UN chief... for a ceasefire in the face of coronavirus, and to de-escalate acts of violence in the entire country."

"The political, economic and health situation require halting all escalations... to preserve people's lives and deal responsibly with this pandemic."

The Saudi-led coalition also backed the initiative, saying: "We support the Yemeni government's decision to accept the UN's calls for a ceasefire."

The Huthis, who move into the sixth year of the conflict in a strong position with more strategic gains in recent months in the country's north, also welcomed Guterres's call to wind back fighting.

Mehdi al-Mashat, head of the Huthis' political wing, expressed the insurgents' "total readiness to be open to all efforts and initiatives in the context of a full and real ceasefire".

UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, called for an urgent meeting of all sides to discuss the implementation of a ceasefire. 

He urged the warring parties to "put their words into action". 

"I expect the parties to adhere to their words and put the interest of the Yemeni people above all," he said in a statement.

In his appeal from UN headquarters in New York on Monday, Guterres had said: "The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war.

"That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world."