LONDON: The US envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking on Thursday condemned the Houthi militia for their continued detention of current and former employees of the American government and the UN.
“It’s still extremely unfortunate and we condemn the Houthi detention of 12 of our current and former US and UN staff, they are still being held incommunicado in Yemen, in Sanaa,” he told reporters during a press briefing on the renewal of the country’s truce.
“This detention, we feel, sends an extremely negative signal, we want to see a demonstration of good faith by the Houthis in releasing these individuals unconditionally,” Lenderking added.
The US said in November that the Iran-backed Houthis detained a number of Yemeni employees at the US embassy in the capital, which had been closed since 2015.
The UN said two of its staff members have been held incommunicado for more than a week by the militia.
Lenderking said aside from focusing on the truce and keeping fighting “at an all-time low” for an extended period, the US is also actively involved in supporting the UN to prevent an explosion or leakage from the Safer tanker that has been moored in the Red Sea and risks an environmental disaster.
He said they are getting close to their target of $80 million for an operation that would offload the oil from the tanker onto an adjacent vessel.
“That’s not a great deal considering what’s at stake. If there is an explosion of the Safer, we’re looking at $20 billion just for the cleanup, there will be (an) impact on international commerce, there will be destruction of vital maritime habitat, (which) will worsen the humanitarian situation in Yemen by obstructing passage into Yemen ports, it will decimate the Red Sea’s marine ecosystem,” he said.
He said Saudi Arabia conveyed a strong commitment to extend the UN-sponsored truce, which was renewed for another two months by the Yemeni parties on Tuesday.
He said both Saudi Arabia and Oman have played a critical role in the truce efforts, adding that they will be working hard to push donors to continue to fill the gaps over the coming months.
He said if the truce, which first took hold in April, continues for another two months, it would mean “six months of de-escalation and significant advances on numerous lines of effort,” and provides potential for a “durable cease-fire and an inclusive, comprehensive political process.”
“The truce offers Yemenis the longest period of calm since the war began, and it offers them real relief, and when you look at the various components of that, civilian casualties are down by about 60 percent since before the start of the truce, approximately 8,000 Yemenis have flown from Sanaa on commercial flights for the first time since 2016, five times more fuel is entering Hodeidah port per month compared to 2021.”
Lenderking said over the next two months intensified negotiations need to be held to finalize the truce agreement, and called on all sides to compromise to make progress.
He said this includes “initial Houthi action” to open the main roads to Yemen’s third largest city, Taiz, where “residents there have been living under siege-like conditions since 2015.”
“The expanded agreement would enable discussions on a comprehensive, nationwide cease-fire that can bring true, true peace and calm to Yemen, and it also paves the way for resuming a Yemeni-Yemeni political process, that … is the only thing that can durably resolve the conflict and reverse the humanitarian crisis,” Lenderking said.