Yemen peace talks 'probably' mid-November, say UN envoy

Yemen peace talks 'probably' mid-November, say UN envoy
3 min read
30 October, 2015
Yemen's envoy is 'optimistic' that peace talks between the government and Houthis will be held in mid-November in Geneva, as MSF demand answers over the bombing of its hospital.



The UN special envoy for Yemen said on Thursday he was confident that peace talks between the government and rebels will "probably" be held in mid-November in Geneva.

Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, contacted in the Gulf by telephone, told AFP his team was in contact with the Yemeni parties to discuss the modalities of the UN-brokered peace talks.

"I am very optimistic" that the talks will take place "between 10 and 15" November or "around November 15", he said.

"We are 90 percent agreed that they will be in Geneva, but there is also a possibility of Muscat. It will probably be Geneva," said Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

He stressed that the two sides were being positive, "both the Houthis who have shown a lot of flexibility, as well as the government side. Today there is an optimism on which I would like to capitalise."

On statements from Riyadh that Saudi-led military operations in support of the Yemeni government are nearing an end, the UN envoy said: "I am convinced that they are sincere."

Yemen has since March, when the Saudi-led coalition launched air raids, been wracked by a conflict that has claimed nearly 5,000 lives, according to the UN.

A first attempt to hold peace talks in Geneva collapsed in June without the warring parties even sitting down in the same room.

Last month, President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi's government backed away from talks that were to be held in Oman, insisting the rebels first withdraw from captured territory.

The Houthis overran Sanaa unopposed in September 2014 and went on to battle for control of several regions, aided by renegade troops loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In July, loyalist forces backed by the Saudi-led Arab coalition, evicted the rebels from five southern provinces, and have since set their sights on the capital.

Hospital strike

On Thursday, Doctors Without Borders demanded answers from the Saudi-led coalition over the bombing of one of the medical charity's hospitals in northern Yemen, rejecting Saudi Arabia's denial of responsibility.

The hospital in the northern city of Saada was hit late on Monday drawing condemnation from United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon, who also fingered the coalition forces as responsible.

"The hospital was hit by coalition air strikes, for us that is without a shadow of a doubt," said Isabelle Defourny, head of operations for the medical charity, known by its French acronym MSF, at a press conference in Paris.

"What we demand is that the coalition recognises that this bombing took place, explains what happened, and commits to helping with the deployment of humanitarian assistance," she said.

"The attack took place Monday 26th between 10:30 pm and 11:30 pm," said Laurent Sury, head of MSF's emergency response team, adding that "five or six strikes" hit the hospital completely destroying it.

"Luckily, there weren't any casualties," he said, explaining that the hospital did not have any patients that night and the staff were able to get out in time.

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday denied that the coalition were behind the attack in the rebel stronghold Saada.

The Saudi mission to the UN said in a statement that "the Arab coalition aircrafts did not attack the hospital" and were not in Saada at the time.

"There have been two contradictory statements by the Saudi ambassador to the UN," said Mego Terzian, president of MSF France.

"First he announced that the strike was probably a mistake and that MSF had given incorrect GPS coordinates. And on October 29, the same ambassador denied any strikes in Saada division," he said.

"At the moment we favour direct negotiations with those responsible, therefore the coalition, to clarify what happened," said Terzian.

"If the negotiations do not produce convincing results, then we will probably take radical steps and withdraw from some areas, or even in the country as a whole," he warned.

Earlier this month at least 30 people were killed in a US bombing of an MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, after the Taliban briefly captured the city.