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Apr 16, 6:04 PM EDT

UN chief set to nominate new special envoy to Yemen


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UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday is expected to nominate the head of the U.N. Ebola mission as the new special envoy to Yemen, the country's U.N. ambassador said Thursday.

Ambassador Khaled Alyemany told The Associated Press that Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed, of Mauritania, is the only candidate for the post after Jamal Benomar on Wednesday announced his intention to step down.

"The secretary-general has already made his decision," Alyemany said. "Ould Cheikh is a very good U.N. diplomat and expert," with experience leading U.N. humanitarian efforts in Yemen in recent years, he said.

Benomar's four years of efforts at a peaceful political transition in the Arab world's poorest country fell apart amid a Shiite rebel uprising, Saudi-led airstrikes and sharp criticism from Gulf countries.

Ban was expected to nominate Ahmed in a letter to the current Security Council president. The council must approve the nomination to make it official.

Ahmed was in West Africa on Thursday and had no comment, his spokeswoman said.

There was no immediate comment from Ban's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, who has said Ban would consult the parties in Yemen and countries in the region before selecting a replacement, adding that it must be "someone who can talk to all parties."

Benomar's departure created 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.

But Benomar had come under criticism from some in the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, as his recent efforts to broker peace yielded little success.

"He had started to promote the Houthis, and we cannot accept that," Alyemany said Thursday. "He started really ignoring the government and ignoring the president."

The ambassador said he doesn't see any objection to Ahmed from the collection of Gulf countries that had pressed for Benomar's departure.

Yemen is now under weeks of airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition in an attempt to push back Shiite Houthi rebels who swept south and caused the Western-backed president to flee.

The U.N. said in its statement on Benomar late Wednesday 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 Shiite power that has supported the Houthis.

More than 700 people have been killed since the airstrikes began.

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