‘Comprehensive agreement’ sought at Yemen peace talks

Sunday 24/04/2016
UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed (R) and UN spokesman Charbel Raji

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”.