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"Serious challenges" remain in Yemen despite progress: UN official

(Xinhua)

10:41, January 26, 2012

UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 25 (Xinhua) -- Jamal Benomar, special adviser to the UN secretary-general for Yemen, said here Wednesday that although Yemen has made formidable progress towards implementing a national transitional agreement, it still has challenges to overcome.

Benomar's statement came as he spoke to the press outside the chambers of the UN Security Council. He had just briefed the council in closed-door consultations on his eighth trip to Yemen.

"I told the council that overall there has been significant progress in implementing the transition agreement," he said. "I told the council also that serious challenges remain."

Yemen has been gripped by political crisis since January 2011, when protests demanding an end to the 33-year rule of President Ali Abduallah Saleh erupted. On Nov. 23, 2011, Saleh signed an agreement to hand power over to his vice-president so that new presidential elections can be held on Feb. 21.

Benomar told reporters that despite a "very fragile" political and security situation, Yemen has made steps forward in implementing the transition agreement.

"The government of national unity and the military affairs committee have made progress in removing road blocks and check points, steps have also been taken to withdraw troops back to barracks and to send armed militias to their villages," he said. "However, this process is far form being complete and additional measures are needed to restore peace and stability and normalcy in the country."

Benomar said that in the short term, efforts of Yemen and the international community should be focused on ensuring that February elections are peaceful.

"Everything must be done to ensure that the elections can take place on time and in an atmosphere of clam, free of fear, provocation, and disruption," he said.

Turning to the humanitarian situation in the country, Benomar said it remains dire.

"Fighting in various parts of the country continues further undermining the economic situation and causing more humanitarian suffering," he said. "Further efforts must be made to ensure access to victims of conflict and vulnerable populations."

The envoy reported that 6.8 million people in Yemen are food insecure. Citing statistics from the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), he said that half a million children in Yemen are likely to die this year or experience life-long health problems, due to the scourge of malnutrition.

The humanitarian needs for Yemenare are only 12 percent funded, Benomar added, emphasizing that donors must scale up their support for the country.

"The secretary-general is committed to mobilizing the UN system and international support for Yemen's peaceful transition," he noted.

Benomar also praised the UN Security Council for its continuing ability to "speak with one voice" on Yemen.

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