Yemen gives Huthis last chance of peace after second coup
KUWAIT CITY - Yemen's government on Sunday accepted a UN-proposed plan to end fighting that has left thousands dead, but there was no word from Iran-backed rebels who have intensified attacks on the Saudi border.
The draft agreement, which follows several months of UN-brokered negotiations in Kuwait, stipulates that the Huthi Shiite rebels must withdraw from Sanaa, which they overran in September 2014.
But it was unclear if the insurgents were ready to end their occupation of the capital, which they have refused to cede despite a more than year-long military campaign by a Saudi-led Arab coalition.
Yemen, home to what the United States sees as Al-Qaeda's deadliest franchise, descended into chaos after the 2012 ouster of longtime strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Security deteriorated further after the Huthi rebels swept into the capital and pushed south, forcing President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's government to flee into exile in March last year.
The conflict has killed more than 6,400 people and displaced 2.8 million since then, according to UN figures.
Over 80 percent of the population urgently needs humanitarian aid.
The proposed peace deal is broadly in line with the demands of Hadi's Saudi-backed government.
It replaces a roadmap previously proposed by UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed that stipulated the creation of a unity government including the insurgents, which was rejected by Hadi's government.
Under the new plan, a political dialogue between various Yemeni factions would start 45 days after the rebels withdraw and hand over heavy weapons to a military committee to be formed by Hadi.
Prisoners of war would also be freed.
The government's acceptance came after a high-level meeting in Riyadh chaired by Hadi.
"The meeting approved the draft agreement presented by the United Nations calling for an end to the armed conflict and the withdrawal (of rebels) from Sanaa" and other cities they have seized, said a statement.
According to sources close to the delegates in Kuwait, the government accepted the deal following pressure from Saudi Arabia which wants to corner the rebels and show they are unwilling to accept a political solution.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdulmalek al-Mikhlafi, who is leading Hadi's negotiating team, said he had sent a letter to the UN envoy informing him the government backed the "Kuwait Agreement".
One pre-condition, however, is that the Huthis and allied forces loyal to Saleh sign the deal by August 7, Mikhlafi wrote on Twitter.
There was no official reaction from the rebels.
Huthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam, however, said on Twitter before the government announcement that the rebels insist on a comprehensive and complete peace agreement, rejecting what he called "half solutions".
The government's announcement came just hours after the coalition said a Saudi army officer and six soldiers were killed in border clashes on Saturday with the Yemeni rebels.
Rebels and loyalists on Sunday traded artillery fire in areas near the Saudi border, military sources said.
In the southern Shabwa province, 18 rebels and 15 loyalists have been killed in fighting since Saturday, other military sources said.
The rebels angered the Yemeni government last week by announcing the formation of a 10-member "supreme council" to run the country -- which the foreign minister branded a "new coup".
Under the proposed peace deal, that council would be abolished along with all decisions made by the rebels since they occupied Sanaa.
A defiant Saleh defended the new council, which he said aimed at "filling the political void left in the country after the legitimacy of Hadi expired and he fled" to Saudi Arabia.
"This council will govern the country as a presidential council and in accordance with the country's constitution and laws," Saleh.
Hadi's government has used the main southern city, Aden, as a temporary capital since it was recaptured from the Huthis last year.
But the authorities have struggled to secure the port city, which has seen a string of bombings and assassinations by the Islamic State group or Al-Qaeda.
On Sunday, two policemen were killed and a third was wounded when a bomb planted in their vehicle was remotely detonated, a security official said.
A car packed with explosives blew up elsewhere in Aden without causing casualties, said another official.
The jihadist rivals have exploited the turmoil to boost their activities in the impoverished country on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula.