KUWAIT CITY, May 18, (Agencies): His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah on Wednesday urged Yemen’s warring parties to press ahead with peace talks, a day after the government delegation threatened to pull out of the UN-brokered negotiations. Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, whose country is hosting the talks, called on the two sides to continue negotiating to “reach positive results”, the official KUNA news agency reported.
The appeal came after HH the Amir met separately with the two delegations and the UN envoy, in an attempt to salvage the talks that began four weeks ago. Senior officials from Kuwait have repeatedly mediated and sought to prevent the collapse of the negotiations aimed at ending nearly 14 months of bloodshed. Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdulmalek al-Mikhlafi, who heads the government delegation, threatened on Tuesday to quit the talks with Iran-backed rebels, giving the UN envoy a “last chance” to make them comply with UN resolutions.
He said the rebels should acknowledge their respect to UN Security Council Resolution 2216 which demands the insurgents withdraw from areas they occupied since 2014 and surrender arms. The United Nations estimates that more than 6,400 people have been killed and 2.8 million displaced in Yemen since March last year.
Meanwhile, Yemen’s Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher on Wednesday rejected a unity government proposed by Iran-backed rebels whom he accused of bringing the country’s economy to the brink of collapse. At a cabinet meeting in the Saudi capital, Bin Dagher insisted the rebels surrender their weapons and withdraw from seized territory in line with a UN Security Council resolution adopted in April last year.
The Shiite Huthi rebels and their allies overran the capital Sanaa in September 2014 and went on to seize control of several regions, forcing President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia. Riyadh formed a regional coalition that began air strikes against the rebels in March last year and later sent in ground forces to support Hadi’s government. “The retreat (of the rebels) from state institutions is non-negotiable,” the premier said.
The meeting was held inside a Saudi government hall where Dagher read from a statement, with cabinet ministers seated at a long table in front of him. At UN-brokered peace talks which began on April 21 in Kuwait, the rebels made a transitional government of consensus a precondition for applying Security Council Resolution 2216. But the prime minister attacked “those who want a national unity government before handing over the weapons” which constitutionally belong in state hands.
He added that the country was “in a terrible state of economic and monetary collapse” after the rebels spent $3 billion, almost the entire monetary reserves of Yemen, “in their war efforts”. He said the rebels also arranged to print more money, leading to a collapse in the value of the rial and a spike in prices. Residents say the cost of fruit and vegetables has risen by at least 20 percent in recent days, while essentials like flour are up by more than 30 percent.
On Tuesday, Yemen’s government threatened to quit the peace talks unless UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed can provide a written guarantee from the rebels that they recognise Resolution 2216 and the “legitimacy” of Hadi’s administration. The director of UN humanitarian operations warned Tuesday that 7.6 million people in conflict-torn Yemen face severe food shortages and are “one step” from famine.
John Ging, who just returned from Yemen, told a news conference that there has been “a shocking fall off” in support from the donor community over the last few months for the millions of Yemenis who need food, clean water and basic health care. The UN appeal for $1.8 billion to help more than 13 million Yemenis this year is just 16 percent funded, he said, despite Yemen being declared one of the UN’s highest-level humanitarian emergencies.
Ging urged governments facing multiple demands for assistance not to forget Yemen. He said the United States, United Kingdom, European Commission and Japan had contributed to the 2016 appeal. The biggest change from 2015, Ging said, was the absence of a contribution from Saudi Arabia which donated $245 million to last year’s UN appeal. He said the donor base for Yemen must be expanded, saying Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and many other countries were being contacted. He stressed that any contributions from parties to a conflict can’t have strings attached.
A major focus of the UN humanitarian summit in Istanbul next week is humanitarian financing, he said, because UN appeals which cover minimum needs are being less than 50 percent funded and new ways must be found to provide life-saving support. Amnesty International on Wednesday accused Yemeni rebels of carrying out a “brutal” campaign of arbitrary arrests and torture of opponents since they seized the capital Sanaa in 2014.
Shiite Huthi insurgents, who are backed by troops loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, have “carried out a wave of arrests of… opponents, arbitrarily seizing critics at gunpoint and subjecting some to enforced disappearance,” the rights watchdog said. Amnesty, in a statement, said “a spree of arbitrary arrests, disappearances and torture by Huthi forces to persecute opponents” was part of a “chilling campaign to quash dissent”.
Its report, named “Where is my father? Detention and disappearance in Huthi-controlled Yemen,” was based on detailed examination of 60 cases of detention in Taez, Ibb and Hodeida, Amnesty said. The warring parties at talks in Kuwait have discussed a deal to release half of the detainees and prisoners they hold before the start of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan in early June.
But the deal was in jeopardy on Tuesday after Yemen’s government suspended its participation in the peace talks, ongoing since almost a month. The Iran-backed Shiite rebels overran Sanaa unopposed in September 2014 and went on to expand their control in the impoverished country, advancing to southern provinces. “Huthi forces have presided over a brutal and deliberate campaign targeting their political opponents and other critics since December 2014,” charged regional deputy director James Lynch.
“Enforced disappearance is an abhorrent crime and cannot be justified under any circumstances,” he said. Amnesty said that some detainees have been held for up to 17 months without being brought before a prosecutor or a judge.