Yemen rebels agree to join delayed peace talks in Kuwait
Kuwait's information ministry says talks -- most important attempt yet to resolve Yemen's devastating conflict – will now open on Thursday.
Rebels threaten to suspend participation if assurances are not met
SANAA - Yemen's Huthi rebels and their allies have agreed to join delayed peace talks in Kuwait after the United Nations assured them that pro-government forces would abide by a ceasefire.
The UN-brokered talks were set to open in Kuwait on Monday but were put off after the Iran-backed insurgents failed to show up over alleged Saudi violations of the ceasefire, which took effect on April 11.
Kuwait's information ministry said the talks -- the most important attempt yet to resolve Yemen's devastating conflict -- would now open on Thursday.
A Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes in Yemen 13 months ago after the rebels, who had seized control of the capital Sanaa in 2014, advanced in other parts of the country.
President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's government fled to main southern city Aden but its members still spend most of their time in Riyadh.
The loyalists have managed since July to reclaim large parts of the south, including temporary capital Aden, but have failed to dislodge the Huthi rebels and their allies from Sanaa and other key areas.
On Tuesday UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had urged Hadi's government and the rebels to work with his envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed "so that talks can start without further delay".
The rebels' Al-Masirah television quoted Huthi representative Saleh al-Sammad as saying they agreed to join the talks after receiving assurances from the UN envoy and ambassadors that the ceasefire would be respected by loyalist forces.
A Western diplomat in Kuwait said that representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council sent a message to the rebels saying they "understand their fears" and urging them to "quickly join" the talks.
The rebels had been assured that the agenda for the talks would be "clear and tackle issues that could help achieve peaceful solutions," said Mahdi al-Mashat, a representative of rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi.
Writing on Facebook, Mashat warned however that "we will have the right to suspend our participation" if the assurances are not met.
A representative of the rebel-allied General People's Congress (GPC) party, Yasser Alawadi, said on Twitter that his delegation would travel to Kuwait on Thursday.
The GPC is led by former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled the country for 33 years until 2012 and has joined forces with the Huthis.
Yemeni sources close to the talks say the insurgents are demanding the lifting of UN sanctions against Saleh and Huthi leaders.
Yemen's internationally recognised government is demanding the Huthis abide by a Security Council resolution calling for a political process and for the rebels to withdraw from cities they seized while surrendering their weapons.
Clashes have continued despite the ceasefire.
A military officer said Wednesday that 16 rebels and three pro-government fighters had been killed over the previous 24 hours in clashes in the Nahm region northeast of Sanaa.
There were intermittent clashes in Nahm and Marib, east of Sanaa, on Wednesday, local sources said.
Committees formed jointly by the rebels and loyalists to monitor the ceasefire deployed on Wednesday in both areas, said Ahmed Rabie, a spokesman for pro-government members of the committees.
The conflict has raised tensions between Sunni Arab states led by Saudi Arabia and its main regional rival, Shiite powerhouse Iran.
US President Barack Obama was due Wednesday in Saudi Arabia, where he was expected to discuss the wars in Yemen and Syria with Gulf leaders.
The United States has provided precision-guided weapons and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition, which has faced mounting criticism for the number of civilian deaths from its air strikes.
The United Nations says more than 6,400 people have been killed in the conflict and almost 2.8 million forced from their homes.