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UN names new Yemen envoy as peace efforts stall

Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed will be the new special envoy to Yemen.

FILE: Ambassadors attend a meeting at the United Nations Security Council called by Russia 13 April 2014 at the United Nations in New York. Picture: AFP.

UNITED NATIONS - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is naming Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to replace his outgoing special envoy to Yemen, who resigned after his peace plan to halt the war there failed, diplomatic sources said on Thursday.

They said Ban has briefed some members of the United Nations Security Council informally about his intention to appoint Ould Cheikh Ahmed to replace Jamal Benomar, a veteran Moroccan diplomat who brokered a 2011 transition plan aimed at quelling political turmoil in Yemen.

"The SG (Ban) has decided to name (Ould Cheikh Ahmed) and will send a letter to the council soon about the appointment," a diplomatic source said on condition of anonymity.

Another diplomatic source said it was unclear when Ban would send his letter, adding that it could be as early as Friday but might come later.

In recent months Benomar's peace plan unravelled, culminating in an ongoing Saudi-led bombing campaign against Houthi rebels allied to Iran.

Several diplomats said it had been known for months that Benomar wanted to leave his post.

Benomar had irked Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations with his handling of so-far unsuccessful peace talks between the Houthis and the Western- and Gulf Arab-backed Yemeni government, Western UN diplomats said on condition of anonymity.

In recent weeks, diplomatic sources said, the Saudis and other Gulf governments have snubbed Benomar. In an interview with CNN on Thursday, Benomar chided the 15-nation Security Council for waiting until this month to impose an arms embargo on the Houthis.

"The one thing that was raised repeatedly in the last four years in Security Council deliberations and often behind closed doors (was) the issue of the spoilers," he said. "Finally, finally, after three years, the Security Council adopted a resolution that addressed this but it was too little, too late."

Both the Houthis and Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has fled to Saudi Arabia, had also grown impatient with Benomar, Yemeni political sources said, and UN-sponsored talks repeatedly gave way to armed clashes.

Yemen's new vice president, Khaled Bahah, said on Thursday that he would welcome Benomar's successor, but that the envoy was not responsible for the collapse of Yemen's transition.

"If something did not happen during the dialogue or there was a failure, Benomar should not be blamed for that, it's the political parties that did not help Benomar," Bahah told reporters in the Saudi capital Riyadh.