The warring parties in Yemen have agreed to take part in talks aimed at ending their three-year conflict. The world's worst humanitarian crisis has millions facing famine in the region's poorest state.
The UN envoy for Yemen said the country's internationally recognized government and rival Houthi Shiite rebels have agreed to attend talks aimed at ending their three-year war.
Martin Griffiths told the UN Security Council that he planned to bring the warring parties together "soon" in Sweden.
He also said the Houthis and the Saudi-backed government were about to conclude an agreement on exchanging prisoners and detainees.
Focus on Saudi Arabia
Griffiths said he was determined to take advantage of "the international attention and energy" focused on Saudi Arabia since the killing of a journalist in Turkey.
Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties. Thousands of Yemeni civilians have died.
"We must seize this positive international momentum on Yemen," Griffiths told the council. "This is an opportunity at a crucial moment to pursue a comprehensive and inclusive political settlement to the conflict."
The conflict in Yemen has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis by pushing the Arab world's poorest country to the brink of famine.
Starvation on the horizon
The UN World Food Program's executive director, David Beasley, has just returned from a three-day visit to Yemen. He told the Security Council, "We do not need to wait for formal declarations about famine or even a full report to act."
"I believe that because of what I saw and heard this week children are already dying," he said. "Starvation is on the horizon unless circumstances change — and change immediately."
"Of the 28 million Yemenis, we believe that as many as 12 million or more Yemenis — yes, that's right, almost half of the entire country — are just one step away from famine," Beasley said.
The situation has worsened over the last year as the economy has collapsed and the currency has sharply declined in value.
Beasley estimated $200 million (€175 million) per month would be needed to stabilize the currency and fend off economic collapse. Up to $160 million per month would be needed to provide assistance for the 12 million Yemenis in need.
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock called on the warring parties to bring an end to the conflict and on the international community to increase aid.
He urged a humanitarian cease-fire around key aid facilities, delivery of humanitarian and commercial imports to all Yemeni ports and onward to their final destinations, and funding to pay Yemeni pensioners and civil servants.
jm/bw (AP, AFP)