Yemen rebel delegates fly to Geneva for UN talks after delay

Yemen rebel delegates fly to Geneva for UN talks after delay

A UN-chartered plane Monday to take part in peace talks after a delay in Djibouti that the rebels blamed on Egypt.

By (AP)

Published: Tue 16 Jun 2015, 12:25 AM

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

Yemeni political groups, including rebels known as Houthis, get on an airplane for Geneva for U.N.-led peace talks at the airport in Sanaa, Yemen - Photo: AP

SANAA — A delegation of Yemen’s Houthi rebels departed for Geneva on a UN-chartered plane Monday to take part in peace talks after a delay in Djibouti that the rebels blamed on Egypt, a member of the Saudi-led coalition that has been targeting them with airstrikes since March.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the plane left Djibouti at 7:10 p.m. local time (1610 GMT) and is scheduled to arrive in Geneva in the early hours Tuesday morning.

Houthi leader Zeifullah Al Shami had earlier said the delegation might return to Yemen’s rebel-held capital, Sanaa, after Egypt refused to allow it to land at Cairo airport, a charge Cairo denied. But he later said the plane was able to take off en route to Geneva after Oman intervened diplomatically.

The Houthis missed a Geneva meeting Monday with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was returning to New York.

Al Shami had blamed the United Nations for the delay, saying it was responsible for the travel itinerary of the plane and should do more to “stop the aggression targeting the country.”

The delegation, which also includes loyalists of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a Houthi ally, and representatives of other political groups, left Sanaa on Sunday. The talks are aimed at ending months of fighting that prompted a Saudi-led coalition to launch an air campaign against the Houthis and their allies nearly three months ago.

Al Shami told The Associated Press that Saudi Arabia and members of its coalition placed major obstacles in the way of the flight.

The head of Egypt’s civil aviation authority, Mahmoud Zanaty, said Egypt had not received a request for the plane to land at any of its airports or pass through its airspace.

The UN secretary-general has pressed for a halt to the fighting in Yemen at the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim month of dawn-to-dusk fasting which starts later this week.

Ban, who met in Geneva with some of the delegations involved, said he had “emphasized the importance of having another humanitarian pause, at least two weeks.”

“I’m urging them that, particularly during this Ramadan — which is a period for peace for people, and praying for peace — they must stop,” he told reporters.

Such a pause won’t be enough in itself to get aid to all needy Yemenis “given the obstacles to access and the scale of destruction,” Ban said. He called for the warring factions to go further, agree on local cease-fires and withdraw fighters from cities.

A previous five-day pause was violated repeatedly, and aid groups said it was hardly sufficient to reach millions in the Arab world’s poorest country.

Yemen’s conflict pits the Houthis — who seized the capital, Sanaa, last year — and military units loyal to Saleh against an array of forces, including southern separatists, local and tribal militias, militants and loyalists of exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The Saudi-led coalition began launching airstrikes against the Houthis and their allies on March 26, shortly after Hadi fled a rebel advance on the south. Riyadh views the Houthis as a proxy of Iran, which supports the rebels but has denied arming them.

The talks in Geneva are expected to last two or three days. The U.N. has said that they will start off as proximity talks — in which mediators meet separately with the various factions — with the hope of eventually getting everyone to sit around the same table.

“The parties have a responsibility to end the fighting and begin a real process of peace and reconciliation,” Ban said, arguing that “the region simply cannot sustain another open wound like Syria and Libya.”

Inside the country, however, there were few signs of the violence abating, with airstrikes continuing in the capital and several other cities, including the southern port of Aden, central Taiz, and Houthi stronghold Saada.

The Houthis said they consolidated control of Jawf province bordering Saudi Arabia and plan to move forces to the frontier.

Al-Shami said the move followed heavy fighting with tribes and forces loyal to Hadi, especially in the provincial capital, Hazm, leaving dozens of civilians dead.

Houthi-run television showed dozens of bodies lying in the streets of Hazm, while doctors and eyewitnesses backed up reports of the deaths.

Security officials who spoke anonymously as they weren’t authorized to brief journalists said that the Saudi-led air campaign has been bombing the city since the Houthis took it over a day earlier, with airstrikes again picking up Monday morning.

They said ground fighting with heavy weapons raged on in several areas, including Marib province, killing at least a dozen civilians.

Meanwhile in the eastern city of Mukalla, the officials said Al Qaeda’s local affiliate and its allies stormed the historic Rawdah mosque, detaining young people who had been singing and chanting against the extremist group, which seized the city earlier this year.

In Geneva, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein said he was “gravely concerned” about the high number of civilian casualties from the conflict.

“Indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks are being used on densely populated areas,” he said in a statement. “Such attacks must be thoroughly investigated, and greater protection of civilians must be ensured by all sides.” 

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