‘Comprehensive agreement’ sought at Yemen peace talks
KUWAIT - Much-anticipated Yemen peace talks opened in Kuwait but were immediately faced with Houthi rebels’ new demands that could torpedo the negotiations meant to end the brutal 13-month conflict.
“The choice today is between two paths; a safe country that guarantees the stability and the rights of all or the broken land where children die on a daily basis,” UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said at the start of the talks April 21st.
“The consultations should provide a strong foundation for a new political consensus to help Yemen achieve the stability and security that its people deserve and its future requires,” he said. “The path to peace may be difficult but I believe that it is clearly within reach if all parties engage in good faith.”
His was a diplomat’s optimism. The delegation of Houthis and the General People’s Congress had boycotted the talks for three days, alleging ceasefire violations by the Saudi-led coalition and fighters loyal to the internationally recognised Yemeni government.
The militia was also said to have demanded an end to the naval blockade and the lifting of sanctions on some of its leaders, including former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi sent Ould Cheikh Ahmed a message stating that requests to modify the talks’ agenda would not be accepted. The Hadi delegation threatened to withdraw from the process if the rebels did not attend by April 21st, a deadline that was met.
The delay and demands led Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdelmalik al-Mekhlafi to warn against high expectations for the negotiations.
“The Houthis and Saleh’s party, by refusing to arrive on the agreed time and by putting a series of conditions and by saying they reserve the right to boycott sessions if their conditions are not met — all of these have lowered the ceiling of expectations,” Mekhlafi said.
Violations of the shaky UN-brokered ceasefire were reportedly decreasing. Saudi defence spokesman Brigadier-General Ahmed Asseri said groups of rebels and loyalists “are mostly operating” and supervised by Saudi members of the coalition. “Our observations tell us that day by day the number of violations keeps decreasing,” he said.
The blueprint for the Kuwait talks is UN Resolution 2216, which calls for the Houthis to withdraw from areas seized since the start of the conflict in 2014 and to surrender heavy weaponry to the internationally recognised government. Ould Cheikh Ahmed, however, said the process “will not necessarily follow a particular sequence”.