Yemeni government and the Houthi rebel will attend peace talks

The Yemeni government and the Houthi rebel movement have agreed to attend peace talks next week, the UN says.

The UN special envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said the talks would start on 15 December in Switzerland.

He added that Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi had told him that he was ready to call a temporary ceasefire to coincide with them.

The conflict between government forces, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, and the rebels escalated in March.

At least 5,700 people, almost half of them civilians, have since been killed in air strikes and fighting on the ground, according to the UN.

The already dire humanitarian situation has also deteriorated severely, with more than 21 million people – four-fifths of the population – now requiring aid.

The UN has been trying to broker a ceasefire in Yemen for months.

On Monday, Mr Ahmed announced that representatives of the government, the Houthis, and the General People’s Congress (GPC) party of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh – whose loyalists in the security forces have backed the rebels – would attend the peace talks at a venue yet to be decided.

 

“I have been strongly encouraging the parties to work on confidence-building measures, including a humanitarian ceasefire, release of prisoners and facilitating the delivery of humanitarian supplies,” the UN envoy told reporters in Geneva.

“We are hoping to have a ceasefire starting immediately with the talks, but in order to consolidate that and to make it a lasting and long-term and final ceasefire we need to discuss that,” he added.

Mr Ahmed said the warring parties were committed to implementing UN Security Council resolution 2216, which calls on them to end the violence and avoid unilateral actions that might jeopardise a political transition.

It also demands the Houthis and allied army units loyal to Mr Saleh withdraw from areas they have seized since September 2014, when the capital Sanaa was overrun, and hand over captured weapons.

Earlier, an official with Mr Hadi’s internationally recognised government told Reuters that the UN envoy had discussed a proposed agenda for the talks with Mr Hadi in the southern port city of Aden, where his administration is based, and with Houthi officials in Oman.

Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam said the group’s representatives had “expressed our openness to conduct a responsible and serious dialogue”.

Mr Ahmed warned that the bombing on Sunday that killed the governor of Aden – claimed by an affiliate of the jihadist so-called Islamic State group – was a “painful illustration of the dangers Yemen is facing if we don’t go quickly to the negotiation table”.

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