Yemen's government accepts talks with Shiite rebels

AP News
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Posted: Oct 19, 2015 2:02 PM
Yemen's government accepts talks with Shiite rebels

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen has accepted an invitation from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for talks with Shiite Houthi rebels at the end of this month to discuss the implementation of a U.N. resolution aimed at ending months of heavy fighting, a spokesman said Monday.

Government spokesman Rajeh Badi said officials will meet in Geneva to discuss the unconditional implementation of a Security Council resolution that requires the rebels to withdraw from all areas they control and lay down arms captured in months of fighting.

Houthi officials confirmed the group will participate in the talks. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Previous attempts at peace talks have failed, with the Houthis resisting calls to withdraw from all areas they control.

The Security Council approved the resolution in April, about a month after a Saudi-led coalition began launching airstrikes against the rebels in support of the internationally recognized government.

The U.N. special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, concluded a three-day visit to the region on Monday, where he met Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is in exile in Saudi Arabia, and other Yemeni officials, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The envoy also met with key Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif, who is also the interior minister, and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, the spokesman said.

"The special envoy welcomes the statements by the officials of the government of Yemen in which they express their willingness to participate in peace talks," Dujarric said.

In the coming weeks, Cheikh Ahmed "will be working with the government representatives, the Houthis and their allies to complete preparations for talks which help ensure that negotiations lead to concrete benefits for the Yemeni people and the foundation for sustainable peace," the spokesman added.

Dujarric said Cheikh Ahmed will be in New York this week to brief the U.N. Security Council and meet with diplomats and other officials.

Saudi Arabia welcomed the planned talks in Geneva, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported Monday, citing an unnamed foreign ministry official.

The planned talks haven't changed the situation on the ground, where pro-government forces backed by the airstrikes and coalition ground forces are continuing to battle the Houthis and allied fighters loyal to a former president. The Houthis and their allies control the capital, Sanaa, and parts of the north.

Brig. Gen. Samir al-Haj, the Yemeni military spokesman, told reporters on Monday that troops will continue battling the rebels and their allies until they prove they are serious about implementing the U.N. resolution. He said the Houthis and allied forces are still sending reinforcements to the front lines.

Also Monday, Sudan acknowledged that it has sent troops to Yemen to fight with the Saudi-led coalition. A Sudanese battalion has arrived in the southern port city of Aden, Sudanese army spokesman Brig. Gen. Ahmed Khalifa told reporters.

Meanwhile, fighting raged in the desert province of Jawf, where nine pro-government and six anti-government fighters were killed, according to security officials. The officials, who are neutral in a conflict that has splintered the armed forces, spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief the media.

Pro-government forces are trying to advance toward al-Hazem, the capital of Jawf, to cut off vital Houthi supply lines from the rebels' northern stronghold of Saada.

The U.N. says at least 2,355 civilians have been killed in fighting in Yemen since March.

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Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.