U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday called for an immediate halt to the fighting in Yemen, the first time he has made such an appeal since Saudi-led airstrikes against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels began three weeks ago.
Also read: Yemeni vice president says ceasefire must precede any peace initiative
Ban said the poorest country in the Middle East was already in a crisis before the recent outbreak of hostilities, with levels of food insecurity that were higher than in the poorest parts of Africa. He said the recent fighting had only exacerbated those problems.
“That is why I am calling for an immediate ceasefire in Yemen by all the parties,” Ban said in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington. “The Saudis have assured me that they understand that there must be a political process. I call on all Yemenis to participate in good faith.”
“The United Nations-supported diplomatic process remains the best way out of a drawn-out war with terrifying implications for regional stability,” he said in the speech, which was broadcast on C-SPAN radio.
Ban on Friday is also expected to nominate the head of the U.N. Ebola mission as the new special envoy to Yemen, the country’s U.N. ambassador said Thursday.
Ambassador Khaled Alyemany told The Associated Press that Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed, of Mauritania, is the only candidate for the post after Jamal Benomar on Wednesday announced his intention to step down.
“The secretary-general has already made his decision,” Alyemany said. “Ould Cheikh is a very good U.N. diplomat and expert,” with experience leading U.N. humanitarian efforts in Yemen in recent years, he said.
Ban was expected to nominate Ahmed in a letter to the current Security Council president. The council must approve the nomination to make it official.
Ahmed was in West Africa on Thursday and had no comment, his spokeswoman said.
There was no immediate comment from Ban’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, who has said Ban would consult the parties in Yemen and countries in the region before selecting a replacement, adding that it must be “someone who can talk to all parties.”
Benomar, a veteran Moroccan diplomat, had irked Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations with his handling of so-far unsuccessful peace talks between the Houthis and the Western- and Gulf Arab-backed Yemeni government, Western U.N. diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
Saudi Arabia launched air attacks in Yemen last month as Houthi rebels, who had taken control of the capital Sanaa in September, closed in on the port city of Aden and forced Yemeni President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi to flee to Riyadh.
The Houthis and army units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh have been fighting alongside each other on several fronts against militia forces loyal to Hadi.