UN envoy in Yemen for emergency talks; Fighting threatens food shipments

World Today

In Yemen, thousands are fleeing heavy fighting around a key port city. Aid agencies warn that the battle could block food shipments and cause widespread starvation. A U.N. envoy is now in the capital, trying to find a diplomatic solution.

CGTN’s Toby Muse has more.

U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths arrived in the rebel-held capital of Sanaa on Saturday for emergency talks. He’s expected to propose to Houthi rebels that they turn over control of the Yemeni port of Hodeidah to a U.N.-supervised committee.

The offer comes as fighting intensifies for control of the city between the rebels and pro-government forces.

Hodeidah is a strategic location, with more than 70 percent of Yemen’s imports passing through the port.

Prolonged disruption to food supplies and aid could prove catastrophic as Yemenis struggle to feed themselves.

“We have approximately 600,000 people living inside the city of Hodeidah,” said Stephen Anderson, Yemen Country Director for the World Food Programme. “If indeed conflict reaches their area, it can cut them off, so we are extremely concerned about the humanitarian impact of this conflict.”

The fighting has been going since Houthi rebels ousted the government in 2011. It’s now become a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi-led coalition supporting the exiled government began its assault on the port city Wednesday.

A French aid organization issued a dire warning.

“There are no words now that describe how bad the situation already was in Yemen,” said Jon Cunliffe, Middle East Operations Director for the Paris-based aid group, Action Contre La Faim. “This is the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe for a very, very long time.”

The Saudi-led forces have reportedly seized the airport on the outskirts of the city from the rebels.

The coalition had attempted to blockade the port, claiming Iran was using the city as a route to smuggle arms to Yemeni rebels.

The taking of the port would be the coalition’s largest victory in Yemen’s brutal conflict.