Yemen warring sides conclude peace talks as ceasefire crumbles

Friday 18/12/2015
Negotiations have basically failed

BERN (Switzerland) - Representatives of Yemen's warring sides were meeting Sunday for a final day of UN-backed peace negotiations, concluding nearly a week of talks with few results and clouded by widespread ceasefire violations on the ground.

UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has announced a press conference in Bern at 1600 GMT Sunday concluding the talks, and is expected to announce a new round, likely starting in mid-January, according to a source close to the rebel delegation.

Negotiators are scrambling to end the spiralling conflict, which has killed more than 5,800 people since March, according to the United Nations.

The sides, who have been meeting since Tuesday in a remote part of Bern canton in a bid to keep the media at bay, agreed Saturday to create "a neutral military committee" to monitor the collapsing ceasefire and another committee to oversee the delivery of humanitarian aid, sources from both delegations said.

The ceasefire theoretically took effect as the talks began six days ago, but it has repeatedly been violated.

Missiles have been fired from rebel-held areas, even slamming down on the Saudi side of the border with deadly consequences, while government forces have seized several areas back from the rebels.

"The negotiations have basically failed," said a source with the delegation representing both the Iran-backed Huthi Shiite rebels and renegade troops still loyal to wealthy ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

He said that the ceasefire, which was meant to facilitate the delivery of desperately-needed humanitarian aid, was "still-born".

"We have not achieved any results," agreed a source in President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's government delegation.

The talks have among other things stumbled on the question of prisoners, with the rebels demanding swaps, while the government wants the Huthis to first liberate a number of its captives, including the president's brother, several sources said.

If nothing else, the talks have managed to get the rival sides to sit down at the same table.

During the last round of talks in Geneva in June, the UN mediator was forced to shuttle between the two delegations, who remained holed up in separate hotels.

Yemen's conflict erupted in September 2014, when the Huthis advanced from their northern strongholds to occupy the capital Sanaa.

It has escalated dramatically since Saudi-led air strikes against the rebels began in March, with more than 5,800 people killed -- about half of them civilians -- and more than 27,000 wounded since then, according to the UN.