Yemen's peace talks on knife-edge, as direct negotiations end

Yemen's peace talks on knife-edge, as direct negotiations end
Direct peace talks between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels ended on Saturday, with the UN envoy having to go back to indirect talks between the warring parties.
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Yemen's peace talks hang in balance after government walked out of direct negotations [AFP]

A Yemeni government delegation has pulled out of negotiations with Houthi rebels in Kuwait, complaining of a lack of progress.

Direct peace talks between the two warring parties heralded fresh hopes for an end to Yemen's war, which has left at least 6,800 people dead and made 2.8 million homeless.

Now, UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed will have to revert to indirect talks between the two sides.

Fragile talks

Talks began on 21 April, and on Thursday the pro-government and rebel sides met to discuss major political and security issues.

These face-to-face negotiations were aimed at bringing an end 13 months of devastating fighting - made worse by the Saudi-led coalition's bombing campaign of Houthi territories - but things soon fell apart.

Two unproductive meetings were held with the UN mediator announced that "direct talks are suspended". He must now speak to the two sides separately.

A government official blamed Houthis - backed by supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh - for the breakdown in negotiations.

He said the rebels "went back on their word" about discussing substantive issues in three joint working groups formed under UN auspices.

[President Hadi is] an adversary and it is unacceptable that he embodies the state.
- Houthi statement

These were formed on Wednesday when direct talks resumed following a three-day interruption after the government delegation walked out in protest against the rebel seizure of an army camp on Sunday.

The working groups exchanged views on resolving political and security issues and the release of prisoners and detainees, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2216.

Rebels would also be forced to withdraw from territory they have taken since 2014 - including the capital Sanaa - and to surrender heavy weaponry they had seized.

Return to war?

However, the delegation from the rebels and their allies was demanding "prior agreement on the establishment of a transitional executive body", the government official said.

In a statement on the sabanews website, a rebel delegate said the three joint teams will resume work "after an agreement on the form of the state and the transitional authority".

Without such an agreement, the talks were "a waste of time" said the rebel delegate.

They also said that President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi's government was "an adversary and it is unacceptable that he embodies the state".

Each side accuses the other of not respecting the truce which has been constantly broken since it came into force on 11 April.