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Yemen ceasefire takes effect – UN-brokered peace talks begin in Switzerland

SANAA: Shiite tribesmen, known as Houthis, hold their weapons as they chant slogans during a tribal gathering showing support for the Houthi movement yesterday. — AP
SANAA: Shiite tribesmen, known as Houthis, hold their weapons as they chant slogans during a tribal gathering showing support for the Houthi movement yesterday. — AP

ADEN: A ceasefire took effect yesterday in conflict-ravaged Yemen as warring sides began UN-brokered peace talks in Switzerland, according to the United Nations and the Saudi-led coalition battling Iran-backed rebels. The World Health Organization outlined plans to take advantage of the halt in fighting to distribute much-needed medical supplies across the country. Limited violations of the truce were reported shortly after it began at midday (0900 GMT), with two loyalists killed in clashes in the east and mortar rounds hitting government forces in the southwestern province of Taez, according to security and military officials.

The Saudi-led coalition, which launched an air war against the Houthi Shiite rebels and their allies in March, said the ceasefire had started as scheduled following a request by Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi. The rebel forces, who control the capital, did not say if they would abide by the truce. Previous UN efforts have failed to narrow differences, and attempted ceasefires have broken down.

The UN envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, hailed the halt in fighting as “a critical first step towards building a lasting peace in the country”. He said that the talks in Switzerland “seek to establish a permanent ceasefire and pave the way for a return to a peaceful and orderly political transition”. UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi confirmed that the talks had begun at an undisclosed location. “These consultations seek to establish a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, secure improvements to the humanitarian situation and a return to a peaceful and orderly political transition,” he told reporters. Fawzi said 12 negotiators and six advisers made up each of the two delegations taking part in the talks.

Warning of Retaliation

Ahead of the truce, clashes shook the flashpoint city of Taez and coalition warplanes bombed rebel positions. Soon after the ceasefire took effect, a Yemeni security official reported five mortars targeted pro-Hadi forces in Shuraija, south of Taez. Residents had earlier reported hearing shelling in the city. In the eastern province of Marib, clashes killed two pro-Hadi fighters in the early afternoon before subsiding, military sources said. A pro-Hadi officer told AFP: “We have received orders from our military leadership not to respond to the rebel shelling unless they advance towards us.” The coalition has warned that it “reserves the right to respond in case of any violation”.

Hadi has declared his government’s intention to have a seven-day truce to coincide with the peace talks and to be “renewed automatically if the other party commits to it,” the coalition said. A Yemen presidential statement said the proposed ceasefire “comes out of keenness to grab any chance to achieve peace, to reduce the suffering of our people in Yemen and to end bloodshed.” Yemeni civilians are anxious to see peace prevail. “We demand the warring parties who are in Geneva now offer concessions…because all Yemenis are eager to get Yemen out of this crisis,” a resident of the capital Sanaa, Ali Hasan, told AFP.

Aid Delivery to Begin

A lull in fighting is sorely needed in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest nation, where the UN says an estimated 80 percent of the population requires humanitarian aid. The WHO representative in Yemen, Ahmed Shadoul, said that the UN agency had received assurances from the warring factions that its staff were free to distribute medical supplies while the ceasefire holds. “We have requested unconditional movement of supplies, personnel and teams to all parts of the country and we got the confirmation that this will definitely be granted,” Shadoul said in Geneva.

More than 5,800 people have been killed in Yemen – about half of them civilians – and more than 27,000 wounded since March, according to the UN. Jihadists, including the Islamic State group, have exploited the violence, gaining ground and carrying out deadly attacks against both sides. Ahead of the ceasefire, coalition warplanes bombed rebel positions in Taez and south of Sanaa, according to witnesses and a military official.

The rebel-controlled Saba News Agency said 10 people were killed and 20 others were wounded in an air raid early Tuesday on the village of Bani Haddad, in the Haradh area of northern Yemen. The warring sides have agreed to talks despite protracted differences, including over a UN Security Council resolution calling for rebels to withdraw from key cities and surrender their weapons. The government and its Gulf allies say the resolution is a prerequisite for peace. In addition to the air cover, the coalition has backed pro-government forces with soldiers and heavy weaponry. – AFP

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