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Houthis stay away from peace talks

Both the exiled government and the rebels accuse each other of trying to sabotage the process.


Published: Fri 19 Jun 2015, 1:15 AM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 3:07 PM

Geneva — Talks on a possible truce in the war in Yemen have made “no progress” because the Iranian-backed Houthi delegation has not come to the United Nations in Geneva where the talks are being held, Yemen’s Foreign Minister Reyad Yassin Abdulla said on Wednesday.

“Today we were supposed to have something positive. They are just sitting in their hotel making all kind of rumours,” he told Reuters. “They never showed up.”

Asked if his delegation planned to leave the talks, the minister said: “We have 48 hours.”

Both the exiled government and the rebels accuse each other of trying to sabotage the process.

The third day of the high stakes talks, launched by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with an appeal for a badly-needed two-week humanitarian truce, also hit a snag over an inflated rebel presence.

“The only positive point so far is that the negotiations are continuing and that no delegation has slammed the door,” said a Western diplomat following the talks.

The UN special envoy for Yemen, Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, meanwhile was trying to get the rebels to whittle down their team from 22 to the pre-agreed 10.

“We believe that in order to commence, the numbers need to be reduced and there has to be a balance between the two teams,” he said.

He also repeated that the warring sides had to bend down.

“In a situation like this, the Yemenis need to talk among themselves, not with the United Nations,” he said.

“As long as we have not reached the point where the Yemenis agree together, this will be very difficult.”

Yemeni Foreign Minister Riad Yassin repeated the exiled government’s stand that a rebel pullout was non-negotiable.

“We are demanding their retreat from all the provinces to conclude a ceasefire or truce in keeping with Resolution 2216 of the Security Council,” he said.

The rebels control a vast swath of territory, including the capital Sanaa.

On Tuesday they accused Saudi Arabia of trying to torpedo the peace talks and claimed the exiled government was trying to impose its own agenda on the UN.

They arrived a day late in Geneva on Tuesday for the talks after being stranded in Djibouti — a delay they blamed on Riyadh, claiming that the Saudis had asked Egypt and Sudan to close their airspace to the chartered plane.

Meanwhile Abdulmalek Al Houthi, the leader of the rebels who bear his name, said the government was trying to “impose their own agenda,” and use the UN special envoy as a “tool”.

“Leave to the United Nations some neutrality to continue its mission... Stop your continuous attempts to control its new envoy,” said Houthi.

Yemen has been wracked by conflict between Iran-backed rebels and troops loyal to exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled to Saudi Arabia in February.

Global powers are keen for a speedy resolution, fearing the growing power of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemeni branch of the terror network that has taken advantage of the chaos to seize territory.

The US said on Tuesday that the UN talks were “the best way forward for Yemenis” with a political solution “the only way to resolve the crisis”.

“We encourage Yemenis participating in the talks to work towards a rapid resumption of the Yemeni political transition process,” the State Department’s press office director Jeff Rathke said.

The UN has described Yemen’s humanitarian crisis as “catastrophic”, with 80 per cent of the population — 20 million people — in need of aid.

The UN children’s agency said on Tuesday that at least 279 children had been killed in conflict since the Saudi-led strikes began — a figure four times higher than for the whole of last year.

Both experts and some participants are pessimistic about the outcome of the talks.

The positions of the two warring sides are so divergent that they will not be sitting in the same room and the UN will be holding separate consultations with them. — Reuters, AFP

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