AP Interview: Yemen peace talks inevitable, says UN official

AP News
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Posted: Apr 23, 2015 3:33 PM
AP Interview: Yemen peace talks inevitable, says UN official

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — A renewal of talks on ending Yemen's conflict is "inevitable" and behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts could bring results in the coming weeks, including a possible U.N.-hosted conference involving most parties, the head of U.N. operations in Yemen said Thursday.

The Gulf nation of Oman is also involved in mediation, Paolo Lembo, the U.N. resident coordinator in Yemen, told The Associated Press in an interview.

Lembo, speaking at a hotel in Amman, Jordan, said all sides "are aware that there is no other solution" than a political settlement, but that fighting will likely continue for some time.

All sides have declared their willingness to enter talks, but none have taken steps so far to halt the fighting. On Thursday, Shiite rebels pressed ahead with an offensive in the south and a Saudi-led coalition bombarded them from the air, less than two days after it said it was scaling back air strikes.

The battle in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, pits the Houthi rebels and their allies— military units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh — against the Saudi-led coalition and the forces of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, Yemen's internationally recognized leader.

Despite the continued fighting, Lembo said he believes that "the resumption of peace talks is inevitable.'" He said that "diplomatic discussions are occurring, invisibly, behind the scenes, and I know there is reason enough to believe that they should bring good results in the future, in the coming weeks."

He also said he hopes to see "a conference that will bring most of the parties to the table," but would not elaborate.

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday nominated Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to be the new special envoy to Yemen who would guide future peace talks.

His predecessor, Jamal Benomar, resigned last week, after sharp criticism from Gulf countries. Benomar's four years of trying to broker a peaceful political transition in Yemen fell apart amid the rebel uprising and the airstrike response.

Lembo, who oversees some 1,000 U.N. staff in Yemen, said the country has been hit by more than 4,000 airstrikes since the Saudi-led air campaign began March 26. He said close to 1,100 people have been killed, with the actual figure believed to be higher, and that some 150,000 have been displaced.

The U.N. official was evacuated from Yemen 10 days after the start of the air campaign, but said he expects to return.