UN envoy says warring parties in Yemen agree to talks

Friday 23 Oct 2015

File Photo: United Nations envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed talks to reporters upon arrival at the international airport of Sanaa, Yemen May 29, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)

The UN's special envoy for Yemen said Friday that he was beginning preparations to hold negotiations between warring factions in Yemen as a "catastrophic" humanitarian situation loomed.

The emissary, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, told the Security Council that the Houthi rebels and backers of former president Ali Abdallah Saleh had "clearly committed" to carrying out the Security Council resolution, 2216, that calls for a negotiated withdrawal by the rebels "from Yemen's key cities and a surrender of all heavy weapons to the state."

He said the Yemeni government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi -- which last month backed away from UN-sponsored talks in Oman, demanding that the rebels first withdraw their forces -- had announced its agreement to send a delegation to the upcoming negotiations.

Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world, has been wracked since March by a conflict that has claimed nearly 5,000 lives, according to the UN. In that month a Saudi-led Arab coalition launched air strikes against the Houthi rebels, a once obscure Shia group with Iranian backing.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed told the Security Council that the already suffering people of Yemen faced a "catastrophic" situation, with up to 21 million people -- 80 percent of the population -- in need of humanitarian aid.

He said matters had grown more dire since an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia, which supports President Hadi, launched an intense bombing campaign in March.

A naval blockade put in place by that coalition has prevented sea-going vessels from bringing fuel supplies to Yemen, with drastic effects on hospitals in particular, Ould Cheikh Ahmed said. Only one percent of the country's monthly fuel needs were met by September deliveries, he added.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed said he would begin working immediately with the government, Houthi leaders and other stakeholders to determine an agenda, a format and a date for the upcoming talks, which he said would be announced soon.

He called on all parties to negotiate "with no preconditions and in good faith."

For the UN, Resolution 2216 provides a "framework" for negotiations, Ould Cheikh Ahmed said, adding that it is up to the Yemeni parties to agree on ways to implement it.

An attempt in June to bring the Yemeni parties together at a negotiating table also failed. 

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