Yemen factions agree to truce during UN-backed peace talks
The United Nations has tried to bring pro-government forces and Iran-backed rebels to the table for months to end a war that has killed thousands and plunged the impoverished nation into a profound humanitarian crisis.
“An agreement on a ceasefire between the government and the putschists should enter into force on December 15 with the start of negotiations,” Foreign Minister Abdel Malak al-Mekhlafi told AFP.
UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said on Monday that a swift halt to the fighting — which has dramatically escalated since a Saudi-led coalition began bombarding insurgents in March — was imperative for those caught up in the conflict.
Ould Cheikh Ahmed told reporters that three delegations would take part in talks likely to be held outside Geneva and which will last “as long as it takes”.
Talks will focus on four main areas, including the terms for a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of armed groups from the areas under their control.
Confidence-building measures will be another area of dialogue, including broadening humanitarian access in the country where aid workers have been killed and kidnapped.
Delegates will finally try to hammer out a political future for Yemen, a country plunged into worsening chaos since the insurgents overran the capital Sanaa and expanded south, forcing the government to flee to Saudi Arabia before it returned to second city Aden last month.
The delegations will include representatives of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi’s government, the Huthi rebels and officials from the General People’s Congress (GPC), who are loyalists of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Though not formally aligned, some GPC members have expressed support for the Huthis.
– Truce ‘could be extended’ –
A source in Hadi’s cabinet said the truce would last seven days, as specified in a letter sent by Hadi to the UN Security Council.
The agreement reached ahead of talks calls on the rebels to “lift the seige of towns, allow the entry of humanitarian aid and free military and political detainees,” the source said, adding that the truce “will be supervised by the UN and could be extended if respected by the (rebels)”.
There was no immediate confirmation from the rebels that they would abide by a ceasefire, but Ould Cheikh Ahmed has said he is certain that the Iran-backed Huthis will show up for talks.
The UN envoy said Riyadh has promised to observe the ceasefire and pause its aerial assault on rebel positions during talks.
“By respecting the ceasefire, the Huthis could signal their good intentions to move forward on implementing (UN Security Council) Resolution 2216” calling on rebels to withdraw from territory they seized, the cabinet source said.
The truce announcement followed the killing Sunday of the governor of Aden, Jaafar Saad, in an attack claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group, which has threatened further violence.
Jihadist groups have exploited the conflict by making sweeping gains.
Ould Cheikh Ahmed said he was “extremely concerned by the ever-growing suffering of the Yemeni people” and called on the rival camps to show “courage, personal sacrifice and tenacity” in the bid for peace.
The Saudi-led coalition kept up its strikes on rebel positions Tuesday around the strategic city of Taez in southwestern Yemen, the scene of fierce fighting in recent weeks.
Military sources said at least four civilians were killed in shelling by rebels on residential areas of Yemen’s third city.
The United Nations says more than 5,700 people have been killed in Yemen, almost half of them civilians, since the Saudi-led air campaign began.