By Umar Farooq
WASHINGTON (AA) – Warring factions in Yemen have confirmed they will attend peace talks in Sweden, UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths said Friday.
"This is a crucial moment for Yemen. I have received firm assurances from the leadership of the Yemeni parties," said Griffiths at a UN Security Council meeting. "They are committed to attending these consultations. I believe they are genuine."
Griffiths said he will head to Sanaa next week, and would travel with the delegation to the consultations in Sweden, if necessary.
The UN envoy noted he was close to "solving the preparatory issues that will allow us to make this happen."
"With increased international attention, has come a renewed commitment from the Yemeni parties to work on a political solution," Griffiths said.
Impoverished Yemen has been wracked by violence since 2014 when Shia Houthi rebels overran much of the country, including the capital, Sanaa, and al-Hudaydah province.
The conflict escalated in 2015 when Saudi Arabia and its Sunni-Arab allies launched a massive air campaign in Yemen aimed at rolling back Houthi gains and shoring up the country’s pro-Saudi government.
The violence has devastated Yemen’s basic infrastructure, including its health and sanitation systems, prompting the UN to describe the situation as “one of the worst humanitarian disasters of modern times”.
The announcement by Griffiths came after the chief of the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) David Beasley gave an update on the humanitarian situation in Yemen.
"This is not on the brink of a catastrophe. This is a catastrophe," Beasley said at a news conference.
According to the WFP, 18 million people in Yemen are food insecure, and between 12 to 14 million people are severely food insecure.
"These are people, literally, marching toward the brink of starvation," Beasley added.
Last week forces loyal to Yemen's internationally-recognized government launched a fresh military operation to retake al-Hudaydah — and its two strategic seaports — from Houthi rebels.
On Tuesday, the UN's humanitarian affairs chief Mark Lowcock called for a cease-fire to the ongoing conflict, which led to a halt in clashes in the port city of al-Hudaydah, according to Yemeni security forces.