U.N. Says Yemen Peace Talks Atmosphere Shows Progress

U.N. special envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed (R) and U.N. spokesperson Charbel Raji (2nd R) attend a press conference after the first direct meeting between Yemen's warring factions in Kuwait, April 22. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee

By Mohammed Ghobari

KUWAIT, April 23 – Yemen’s warring factions held their first direct talks in a U.N.-backed peace process on Friday and will meet again despite failing to agree on an agenda, participants said.

The United Nations envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said the meetings in Kuwait had been constructive and the positive atmosphere was a step forward in efforts to end the conflict.

They discussed a more permanent ceasefire in Yemen and how it would be implemented, he said.

The talks, which opened late on Thursday, seek a solution to a war which has killed more than 6,200 people, triggered a humanitarian crisis and enabled al Qaeda and Daesh militants to consolidate their presence in the country.

They bring together the Iran-allied Houthi movement, who control the capital Sanaa, and its General People’s Congress (GPC) allies with the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, based in the southern port city of Aden.

“The meetings held today were constructive and the atmosphere is an important advancement,” Ould Cheikh Ahmed told a news conference. “We will intensify our efforts.”

But sources present at the talks, delayed since Monday due to the late arrival of the Houthi delegation and its allies, said the two sides continue to be divided on the priorities.

The government delegation wants Houthis and fighters loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to withdraw from cities and hand over weapons before discussing a political solution, the sources said.

The Houthis and its allies want the formation of a new government representing all parties, which will then oversee disarmament. They also want to focus the discussion on security arrangements and detainees, the sources added.

The sources declined to be named because the talks, being held at the palace of Kuwait’s ruling emir, are closed to the media.

A temporary truce between the government and Houthis has mostly held in place since April 10 in preparation for the talks although both sides have accused each other of violations.

The Yemen conflict began in September 2014 when the Houthis seized Sanaa. A Saudi-led Arab alliance intervened in March last year, launching a campaign of mostly air strikes against the Houthis in support of Hadi’s forces.

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