Yemeni rebels back out of peace talks at last moment

AP News
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Posted: Apr 18, 2016 6:55 AM
Yemeni rebels back out of peace talks at last moment

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen's Shiite rebels backed out of U.N.-brokered peace talks just hours before the negotiations were to start Monday in Kuwait, demanding an immediate halt to airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition that has waged a year-long war against them, officials said.

It was not immediately clear if the negotiations were completely scuttled. According to two media officials linked to the Shiite rebels known as Houthis, rebel representatives have delayed their trip to Kuwait.

The rebel delegation would not go unless there is a "full halt to the airstrikes" by the Saudi-led coalition, the two officials told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

Officials from the Saudi-led coalition or the Yemeni government could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Kuwait talks are aimed at finding ways to resolve the year-long conflict between Yemen's internationally-recognized government, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, and the Houthis and their allies.

The Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, in September 2014 and expelled the government led by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who flew to Saudi Arabia. The Yemeni government had since enlisted the help of the Western-backed coalition and retaken most of the southern region.

A U.N.-brokered cease-fire announced earlier this month has sought to facilitate the negotiations in Kuwait, though it has repeatedly been breached by both sides, which in turn traded accusations for the violations. Along with Sanaa, cities of Taiz, Marib and Jouf have seen most of the cease-fire violations.

At the talks, the Houthis were widely expected to comply with a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding their militia withdraw from Yemeni cities, the handover of the rebels' heavy weapons to government forces and the release of detainees. Representatives from both sides were also to be deployed along the front lines to monitor for cease-fire violations.

Yemen's war has killed thousands and displaced 2.4 million people while Houthis still retain control in much of the country's northern regions. The conflict has also fueled secessionist aspirations among the Southerners' for independence, which they had before Yemen was unified in 1990.

Also Monday, tens of thousands of Yemenis rallied in the port city of Aden, demanding the secession of the south from the rest of the country and the return of the one-time independent state of South Yemen.

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Associated Press Writer Maggie Michael contributed to this report from Cairo.