The United Nations' special envoy to Yemen has stepped down after four years of efforts at a peaceful political transition in the Arab world's poorest country fell apart amid a Houthi rebel uprising and Saudi-led airstrikes.
A U.N. statement late Wednesday said Jamal Benomar “has expressed an interest in moving on to another assignment” and that his successor will be named “in due course.” Benomar later announced his resignation in a statement on his official Facebook page.
Among the candidates who may take his place is Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who currently heads the U.N. Ebola mission in Accra, Ghana, a U.N. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.
Benomar's departure creates a diplomatic vacuum in Yemen, where he had been the key international figure working to bring the feuding parties together, even after diplomats fled embassies and the U.N. staff pulled out.
Benomar, a Moroccan-born diplomat who holds British citizenship, who previously served as an envoy in Iraq and Afghanistan, had come under criticism from some in the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, as his recent efforts to broker peace showed little success.
By late last week, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.N. was strongly hinting that Benomar was on the way out.
“We continue to support the mission of the special adviser to the secretary-general. ... Whoever the secretary-general designates as his special adviser, for the time being Jamal Benomar, yes,” the ambassador, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, told reporters Friday.
Yemen has absorbed weeks of airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition in an attempt to push back Shia Houthi rebels who swept south and caused the Western-backed president to flee.
The U.N. said in its statement that it will “spare no efforts to re-launch the peace process,” but the challenge has grown as the fighting in Yemen has become a kind of proxy war between Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies and Iran, a Shia power that has supported the Houthis. More than 700 people have been killed since the airstrikes began.
The U.N. Security Council this week imposed an arms embargo on Houthi leaders and again demanded that they withdraw and stop the violence.
The council also imposed an arms embargo on former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had stepped down in early 2012 as part of the U.N.-guided transition and now has aligned himself with the Houthis.
The Gulf Cooperation Council — which includes Yemen's neighbors Saudi Arabia and Oman as well as Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — put together the plan for a political transition in Yemen that was only partially carried out.
The Security Council this week called for a return to U.N.-led negotiations and full implementation of the plan, which includes drafting a constitution and elections.