News / Middle East

UN: Yemen Faces Challenges as Presidential Election Approaches

Margaret Besheer

With Yemen’s landmark presidential election less than a month away, the U.N.’s top advisor for that country said Wednesday the political and security situation remains fragile, but that he believes the vote will take place on time.

Jamal Benomar told reporters after privately briefing the U.N. Security Council on his eighth and latest mission to Yemen that there has been significant progress in the run-up to the February 21 election, but that serious political, economic and humanitarian challenges lie ahead.

“The political and security situation remains very fragile.  The government of national unity and the military affairs committee have made progress in removing road blocks and checkpoints.  Steps have also been taken to withdraw troops back to barracks and to send armed militias to their villages.  However, this process is far from being complete, and additional measures are needed to restore peace, stability and normalcy in the country,” Benomar said.

Benomar underscored the fragile security situation, particularly in the south of Yemen, where he said al-Qaida has expanded its reach, including recently occupying a city 170 kilometers south of the capital, Sana’a.

“This is very symbolic; it shows that the security environment is very volatile and the government is facing this big challenge now of trying to reestablish the authority of the state over a number provinces that are completely out of government control.  It is a big challenge now for the government,” Benomar said.

Yemeni authorities are also dealing with a worsening humanitarian situation, one that Benomar called “dire,” with 6.8 million people suffering from food insecurity and malnutrition on the rise.  The economic picture is bleak as well and international assistance will be required during the political transition.

The country’s out-going president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was enroute to New York for medical care on Wednesday as part of his treatment for serious burns and injuries suffered over much of his body when his palace was bombed last June during the protests that called for an end to his three-decade long rule.  

In November, he agreed to a regionally brokered deal to transfer power to his deputy and to step aside in February when the country holds elections.  There has been widespread criticism of the agreement, which includes full immunity for Mr. Saleh.

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