U.N. Sets One-Month Recess for Yemen Peace Talks as Fighting Continues

But organization’s special envoy to continue shuttle diplomacy in interim to try to end country’s war

Tribesmen hold up their weapons during a gathering to show support to the Houthi movement in the northern city of Saada, Yemen, on August 2. The Houthis demand a share of power in any new government.
Tribesmen hold up their weapons during a gathering to show support to the Houthi movement in the northern city of Saada, Yemen, on August 2. The Houthis demand a share of power in any new government. PHOTO: REUTERS

By Asa Fitch

DUBAI—The United Nations has suspended peace talks over Yemen for a month, but its special envoy will continue shuttle diplomacy in the interim to try to end the conflict there.
The negotiations that were halted on Saturday had begun in Kuwait in April and were the lengthiest in a series of failed efforts to reach a political solution to the more than yearlong war that has left some 6,500 people dead.
Talks will resume at a venue to be determined, according to a statement from Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the U.N.’s special envoy to Yemen. “The Kuwait talks have today reached the final stop, but the peace talks for Yemen continue,” Mr. Ahmed said.
Previous rounds of U.N.-led negotiations in Geneva and Kuwait have failed as fighting on the ground continues despite a cease-fire agreed to in April. The cease-fire would remain in force regardless of the suspension of peace talks.
Yemen’s war pits Shiite Muslim Houthi rebels against a military coalition led by neighboring Saudi Arabia and its mostly Sunni Muslim allies. The Houthis are vying for control of the country with an internationally recognized government led by Saudi-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
The coalition began a campaign against the Houthis in March 2015, seeking to oust the rebels following their takeover of Yemen’s capital San’a and subsequent removal of the Hadi government, which has since set itself up in the city of Aden.
Mediators in the latest round of talks had hoped to forge a deal under which the Houthis would withdraw militias from San’a and lay down weapons, followed by political concessions from Mr. Hadi’s government, according to a senior Western diplomat.
But the Houthis wanted a comprehensive security and political deal before taking any such steps, the diplomat said. That was something Mr. Hadi’s government wasn’t willing to accept because of a lack of trust in the rebels.
That deadlock forced a more modest agreement to prolong the cease-fire while temporarily halting the talks. “It is disappointing,” the diplomat said. “This is a minimalist agreement and not what we hoped.”
Abdulmalek al-Mekhlafi, Mr. Hadi’s foreign minister, said in a tweet that the failure of the talks was due to the Houthis’ and their allies’ “arrogance and their insistence on continuing the war.”
Representatives for the Houthis couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
The peace talks have taken place under U.N. Security Council resolution 2216, which was passed last year. That resolution calls on the Houthis to withdraw from areas they have seized, including San’a, so that the country can resume a transition to an elected government. That transitional process began in 2012 when Mr. Hadi took over as the Yemeni leader after former President Ali Abdullah Saleh was pressured to leave office following an extended period of street protests.
The Houthis and their main ally, Mr. Saleh, now appear poised to move ahead with a political council they formed in July to govern the country, according to diplomats familiar with the matter. That council gave itself broad security, administrative and legislative powers. The U.N. condemned the unilateral move as a blow to the negotiated peace process.
For ordinary Yemenis, the suspension of the peace talks could mean difficult times ahead. The U.N.’s World Food Program estimates that 14 million people—more than half the country’s population—are caught in a hunger crisis, with much of the country on the brink of famine.
Yemen was already the Arab world’s poorest country before the war.

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