KUWAIT CITY, May 4, (Agencies): Yemen’s warring parties resumed face-to-face peace talks on Wednesday after a three-day break triggered by a walkout by the government delegation, the United Nations said. It is only the second round of face-to-face talks in the hard-won negotiations to end a devastating conflict that has killed more than 6,400 people and displaced 2.8 million since March last year.
“The plenary session has started. All are present including the government delegation,” the UN envoy’s spokesman, Charbel Raji, told AFP. The negotiations, which began on April 21, broke off on Sunday after the government delegation quit in protest at the apparent surrender of one of the few loyalist bases in the northern mountains to Iran-backed rebels.
UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said the two sides had agreed that a monitoring committee supervising an April 11 ceasefire would launch a fact-finding mission into the rebels’ takeover of the Al-Amaliqa base in Amran province, one of their strongholds.
The committee will submit a report within 72 hours with practical recommendations that all sides pledge to carry out, Ould Cheikh Ahmed said. Foreign Minister Abdulmalek al-Mikhlafi , who heads the government delegation, has demanded a rebel pullout.
The United Nations stressed the need to strengthen ceasefi re monitoring committees on the ground, particularly in and around battleground third city Taez, where loyalist troops have been under siege for months, trapping tens of thousands of civilians.
Human Rights Watch, which has been deeply critical of alleged violations of the rules of war by the government and its supporters in a Saudi-led military coalition as well as the rebels and their allies, called for justice for the victims from the UN-brokered talks in Kuwait.
It urged the warring parties to “support international investigations, transitional justice and victim compensation as key elements of any agreement”. “The armed conflict in Yemen has been characterised by numerous violations of the laws of war by all sides, which have not been investigated nor have resulted in any redress for victims of unlawful attacks,” the New York-based watchdog said.
Despite a Saudi-led military intervention in support of the government launched in March last year, the rebels and their allies still control the capital, as well as much of the northern and central mountains and Red Sea coast.
The United Nations says that most of the civilians killed in the conflict in the past 14 months have died in Saudi-led bombing raids. Al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch remains a powerful force and poses a growing risk to merchant ships in vital waterways nearby despite efforts by Yemeni government forces and their allies to push back the group, a top officer in an international naval force said.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) confirmed on Saturday it had withdrawn from the southern Yemeni port of Mukalla — a week after Yemeni government and Emirati soldiers seized the city that was used by the Islamist militants to amass a fortune. Captain William Nault, Chief of Staff with the multi-national Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), told Reuters the gains by government forces were “heartening” and a “setback” for AQAP, but added the group still had capabilities due to the ongoing civil war. “AQAP has taken advantage of that chaos and moved into the void. In doing so they have gotten stronger,” said Nault of CMF, whose mission includes counter-piracy and counter-terrorism in the region.
AQAP has exploited conflict between Yemeni government loyalists backed by a Gulf Arab coalition and Houthi rebels allied to Iran and has sought to carve out a quasi state. The group still controls the Arabian Sea towns of Zinjibar and Shaqra, about 400 kms (250 miles) southwest of Mukalla.
That coastal area is close to the Bab al-Mandab gateway though which nearly four million barrels of oil are shipped daily to Europe, the United States and Asia. Nault said AQAP had a “stated capability and intent to conduct a maritime terrorist attack”, which was something “we look at very hard”. Britain’s efforts to tackle Yemen’s massive humanitarian crisis risk being seriously undermined by its multi-billion dollar arms sales to neighbouring Saudi Arabia, a group of UK lawmakers said on Wednesday.
They urged Britain to consider suspending weapons exports to Saudi Arabia, which has been accused by rights groups and aid agencies of repeatedly bombing civilian targets in Yemen. Britain also should back calls for an urgent independent investigation into alleged violations of humanitarian law by both sides in the conflict, the International Development Committee said in a report.
A Saudi-led coalition began a military campaign in March last year to prevent the Iran-allied Houthi movement from taking complete control of Yemen after it seized much of the north.