EU foreign ministers urge ceasefire in besieged port of Hodeidah

Warnings of potential bloodbath in Yemen come amid ‘continuing deterioration’

UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths: briefed EU foreign ministers  on worsening situation in Yemen. Photograph: Yahya Arhab

UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths: briefed EU foreign ministers on worsening situation in Yemen. Photograph: Yahya Arhab

 

Expressing their “extreme concern about the continuing deterioration of the situation in Yemen”, EU foreign ministers on Monday called on all sides to cease fire in the besieged port city of Hodeidah to allow space for a fragile UN peace process.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the foreign ministers’ council had given very strong support to the initiatives of the UN secretary general’s special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, who briefed them. The “EU will do what it can” to promote a ceasefire, he said.

“In this framework,” the ministers’ statement promised, “the EU will maintain its engagement with all parties to the conflict and stands ready to increase its action in Yemen, including in delivering humanitarian aid across the country and in mobilising development assistance to fund projects in crucial sectors.”

More than 10,000 people have died in the war in Yemen, which has entered its fourth year. Over two million people have been internally displaced, while more than 17 million people are food insecure.

In recent days, the Arab coalition involving the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which supports the Yemen government, has launched an offensive on Hodeidah, the port held by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, which is the access point for up to 70 per cent of the country’s food imports.

Street fighting

Griffiths is understood to have told ministers that the Houthi may be amenable to allowing the city to come under the control of the UN. But he warned that there was a danger of street fighting in the city, which could cause serious casualties.

The meeting’s conclusions were implicitly critical of the Saudi/UAE onslaught on the city but also explicitly condemned the Houthi missile attacks on Saudi cities. They urged “all parties to the conflict to ensure the protection of civilians and fully respect international humanitarian law, including unimpeded humanitarian access and safe passage for those who want to escape the fighting”.

They called on the Yemeni government and the Arab coalition to ensure the free and rapid passage of ships containing humanitarian supplies.

“The EU is deeply concerned with the impact of ongoing hostilities, including bombardments in densely populated areas, the besieging of cities, the use of anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions, as well as attacks causing the destruction of civilian infrastructure including schools, medical facilities, residential areas, markets, water systems, ports and airports,” the statement said. “It calls on all parties to the conflict to end the recruitment or use of children as soldiers and other grave violations committed against them.”

Ministers also agreed to impose sanctions – assets freezes and travel bans – on seven Myanmar army border guard and police officials, and on 11 Venezuelan officials accused of undermining human rights.

Atrocities and violations

The former are alleged to have been involved with atrocities and serious human rights violations committed against the Rohingya population in Rakhine state last year. The latter officiated in presidential elections held in Venezuela in May which are widely deemed to have been unfair. The EU also called for the holding of fresh elections.

On the fringes of the meeting, defence ministers from nine member states signed an agreement outside the EU framework to establish a European military force for rapid deployment in times of crisis. Spearheaded by France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, the initiative will allow national armed forces across Europe to co-ordinate and react swiftly together.

Ministers from France, Germany, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, Estonia, Spain and Portugal signed a letter of intent.

The European Intervention Initiative is outside the EU’s structures, so it will allow for full UK involvement after Brexit.