GENEVA (AP) — Yemen's warring parties have agreed to hold peace talks in Switzerland next week, the U.N. special envoy said Monday.
Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed told reporters in Geneva that the talks between Yemen's government and Houthi Shiite rebels would begin Dec. 15 in a venue to be determined. He pointed to "a number of good signs" that a cease-fire, which is to begin the same day, will be respected.
He said only Yemeni participants — not foreigners — would take part in the talks.
"Only a political solution will end the crisis in Yemen," said Ould Cheikh Ahmed. "We strongly believe that the only way to end the suffering of the Yemeni people and to rebuild confidence, trust, and mutual respect is through peaceful and inclusive dialogue."
"Making peace requires a lot of courage, personal sacrifice and tenacity," he added. "I call on the parties to adhere to a cease-fire effective the 15th of December in order to create an environment conducive to peace talks, save lives and give hope to the Yemeni people."
In New York, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said the aim of the talks is to establish a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire, alleviate the current humanitarian crisis and put Yemen back on the path of "a peaceful and orderly transition."
The conflict in the Arab world's most impoverished country pits the Shiite Houthis rebels and army units loyal to a former president against a loose alliance of pro-government forces, southern separatists and other militants. The U.N. estimates that at least 5,700 people have died since the conflict escalated in March and a Saudi-led, U.S.-supported air campaign began.
Previous peace efforts have ended in failure, with the government demanding the implementation of a U.N. resolution calling on the Houthis to lay down arms seized from the state and withdraw from territory, including the capital. The Houthis want broader negotiations on the country's political future.
In a statement, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. urges the parties to return to the talks without preconditions, "and we continue to urge all parties to exercise restraint, take all feasible precautions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and to comply with their obligations under an international humanitarian law, including with respect to protecting medical personnel facilities and differentiating between civilian objects and military objectives."
Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed.