Yemen war: Jeremy Hunt flies to Middle East for talks amid humanitarian crisis

Foreign secretary to meet both both sides in hopes of finding diplomatic solution to brutal war

Tim Wyatt
Thursday 28 February 2019 23:33
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Malnutrition centre in Mukalla, Yemen provides care for children suffering hunger and famine

Jeremy Hunt is on his way to the Middle East to hold talks on trying to end the four year-long war in Yemen.

The foreign secretary is due to arrive in Oman on Friday and will then travel on to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

He has meetings lined up with key figures on both sides of the seemingly intractable conflict.

Mr Hunt will speak to senior members of the Yemeni government, which is backed by Saudi Arabia, and the Houthi rebel group which has been trying to overthrow them since 2015.

He said he would urge all parties to resume diplomacy and take steps to ease the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn nation.

A key aim will be ensuring aid can be brought in, including through the crucial Red Sea port Hodeidah.

“My aim is to build on the UN-backed agreement reached in Stockholm in December,” Mr Hunt said.

“The peace process has allowed a sustained reduction in fighting in Hodeidah. But more needs to be done.

“In my discussions with the Houthis and the government of Yemen I will urge all sides to accelerate the redeployments they agreed at Stockholm and ensure the flow of humanitarian relief.”

Mr Hunt is under pressure domestically to raise the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October during his visit to Riyadh - and to reveal the result of the UK government's investigation into it.

The also trip comes after Mr Hunt failed to persuade Germany to re-start arms sales to Saudi Arabia after Berlin halted the trade over human rights fears.

At least 10 million Yemenis are on the brink of starvation but 50,000 tonnes of grain from the World Food Programme – enough to feed 3.7 million people for a month – has been stuck in inaccessible mills since September because of fighting.

“Moving these forces away from the ports is necessary to prevent a return to fighting, prepare the road for the next round of peace talks and ensure desperately needed humanitarian aid is able to reach those who need it most,” Mr Hunt added.

The senior Conservative will also use meetings with counterparts from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to “reinforce the UK’s continued commitment to regional security, prosperity and human rights issues”, the Foreign Office said.

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Amnesty International UK’s Oliver Feeley-Sprague said: “The foreign secretary’s role as a peacemaker in Yemen is deeply compromised by the role the UK is playing in arming key members of the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen.

“The coalition’s bombing of hospitals, homes, weddings and even bus-loads of children has been one of the biggest causes of misery in the Yemen conflict, and the UK needs to finally accept this and stop the flow of these British arms to Riyadh and its allies.”

Additional reporting by PA

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