Ceasefire breaches hinder Yemen talks, Arab coalition blames Houthis
GENEVA - UN-sponsored Yemen peace talks in Geneva are increasingly in doubt because of allegations by the internationally recognised Yemeni government and the Iran-allied Houthis of ceasefire breaches and the refusal of Houthis to release senior Yemeni officials they are holding.
Brigadier-General Ahmed al- Assiri of the Saudi coalition said the Iran-allied Houthis had repeatedly broken the ceasefire, which was supposed to begin at midday December 15th, and that his forces were responding.
The truce was intended to last seven days and coincide with talks seeking to end the nine-month-old war between the Houthis based in Yemen’s north and Saudi-backed southern and eastern fighters loyal to Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Nearly 6,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in the fighting as the country faces a mounting humanitarian crisis.
“The number of violations is around 150 and this does not show honest intentions,” Assiri told Saudi-government-run al-Ekhbariya television.
“We urge the United Nations to clarify to the Houthis that there will be no patience towards these practices and the truce could collapse at any moment,” he said, adding that Saudi Arabia would not tolerate attacks on its border from Yemen.
The closed-door peace talks in Switzerland, which also began December 15th, were suspended, according to sources, after the Houthis rejected demands by the Hadi government to free senior officials, including Defence Minister Mahmoud al-Subaihi and Hadi’s brother, Nasser.
Instead of facilitating direct talks, UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed was shuttling between the two sides trying to bridge differences.
According to the United Nations, Saudi-led air strikes hit Sana’a on December 16th and major ground fighting was reported in the southern city of Taiz. Breaches of the ceasefire were also reported in the province of Marib and provinces on border with Saudi Arabia.
Local media reported that there was a prisoner exchange in which more than 200 fighters from both sides were repatriated with hundreds of others expected to soon be returned.
The prisoner exchange took place in the Yafa’a district of the southern province of Lahj, along the border with the central province of Bayda, witnesses said.
The conflict in Yemen pits the Iran-supported Houthi rebels and allied fighters, who support former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, against forces loyal to the Hadi government and an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia, which launched an air war against the rebels on March 26th.