Yemen talks falter before they begin

AFP, GENEVA, Switzerland

Mon, Sep 10, 2018 - Page 4

Long-awaited UN-backed talks between Yemen’s warring parties on Saturday sputtered out before ever truly starting, after the Houthi rebels refused to travel to Geneva, Switzerland, and fresh fighting broke out on the ground.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths said he had held “fruitful consultations” with the delegation representing the government of Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, but acknowledged that he had been unable to convince the rebel delegation to even show up for the talks.

“We didn’t manage to get ... the delegation from Sanaa to come here,” he told reporters.

“We just didn’t make it,” he said, adding that efforts would continue to bring the parties together.

Rebel chief Abdulmalik al-Houthi defended his decision not to send a delegation to Geneva, calling on his supporters to fight, and slamming the government as “mercenaries” and “traitors.”

“Our choice is steadfastness and resistance to aggression on all fronts,” the rebel chief said in his first public statement after the collapse of negotiations.

The talks, meant to be the first meeting between Yemen’s warring sides in two years, had been scheduled to formally open on Thursday, but the absence of the rebels left Griffiths scrambling to try to save them.

The Iran-backed Houthis, powerful armed tribes locked in a war with Yemen’s Saudi-backed government, refused to take off from the rebel-held capital of Sanaa unless the UN met a list of conditions, which included securing a safe return from Geneva for their delegation.

They accused the Saudi-led alliance backing the Hadi government of planning to strand their delegation in Djibouti, where their plane was to make a stop en route to Geneva.

They hinted they feared a repeat of 2016, when 108 days of talks in Kuwait broke down and a rebel delegation was stranded in Oman for three months due to an air blockade.

Complicating things further, fighting flared again on the ground on Friday with government forces attempting to close in on the rebel-held Red Sea port of Hodeida, which had been expected to be one of the main topics of discussion in Geneva.

Head of the Yemeni government delegation, Yemeni Minister of Foreign Affairs Khaled Yamani, said that the rebels were “trying to sabotage” the negotiations, and slammed them for being “totally irresponsible.”