DUBAI (Reuters) – United Nations-sponsored talks to end nearly 16 months of war in Yemen resumed in Kuwait on Saturday, delegates said, despite threats by representatives of the Saudi-backed Yemeni government not to attend.
A shaky ceasefire that began when the talks started in April has helped slow down the fighting but clashes continue in various parts of the country where Islamist militants have taken advantage of a security vacuum to launch a string of bombings.
The talks bring together the Iranian-allied Shi’ite Muslim Houthi movement and Yemen’s internationally-recognised government, but have achieved little concrete progress in over two months.
Two delegates said only a ceremonial meeting was scheduled for Saturday night in the presence of the U.N. special envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. Both sides would get down to bargaining on Sunday.
The talks have given Yemen its best chance for peace after 16 months of war that have killed more than 6,500 people and created a humanitarian crisis. They were suspended at the end of June ahead of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday.
Hadi’s government is demanding the Houthis withdraw from areas they have seized since 2014 and hand over weapons they have captured from the army. The Houthis want to be part of a new government that would prepare for elections.
Hadi’s government was angered by a proposal put forth by Ould Cheikh Ahmed combining both demands, and had threatened to stay away from the talks unless the U.N. envoy gave guarantees to drop any talk of a unity government before the Houthis withdrew from the cities they control, including the capital Sanaa.
But Ould Cheikh Ahmed managed to persuade the government to join the talks after promising to push for an agreement within two weeks, according to Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdel-Malek al-Mekhlafi, the head of the government negotiating team.
Saudi Arabia and its mostly Gulf Arab allies intervened in Yemen’s civil war in March 2015 to confront what they say is an Iranian bid for influence on the Arabian Peninsula.
The Houthis have denied being backed by Iran and accuse Hadi’s government of corruption and dependence on foreign powers.
(Reporting By Mohammed Ghobari, writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Kevin Liffey)