Peace talks in Kuwait to end a civil war and Saudi-led intervention in Yemen will not begin on Monday as scheduled, officials from the warring sides said as fighting persisted despite an announced ceasefire.
Delegations representing Yemen’s Houthi group and the party of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh – Saudi Arabia’s main antagonists – have yet to head to Kuwait for the peace talks, citing heavy combat and Saudi-led air operations.
“There’s no point in going to Kuwait if there’s no respect for the ceasefire,” a senior official in Saleh’s General People’s Congress party told Reuters on Monday, the day when peace talks were due to begin.
The U.N.-brokered truce went into effect on April 11.
Saudi Arabia and some Gulf Arab allies joined the war in March last year to back Yemen’s government after it was pushed into exile by forces loyal to Saleh and the Houthi movement, also called Ansarallah.
Previous United Nations-mediated talks in June and December failed to end the Arabian Peninsula war, which has killed about 6,200 people, about half of them civilians.
Fighting and air strikes persist on several battlefronts throughout the country, especially in the contested southwestern city of Taiz and the Nehm area east of the capital Sanaa.
The U.N. envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, urged the two parties remaining in Sanaa to commit to the talks and travel to Kuwait.
“We are working to overcome the latest challenges and ask the delegations to show good faith” and participate in the U.N.-brokered talks, said diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, without specifying the problems. “… The next few hours are crucial. We call on the parties to take their responsibilities seriously and agree on comprehensive solutions.”
“I hope that Ansarallah and the General People’s Congress do not miss this opportunity that could save Yemen the loss of more lives and put an end to the circle of violence that has engulfed the country.”
Two Yemeni officials from the country’s Saudi-backed government said the opposing delegations would likely arrive on Tuesday.
“Representatives from Saleh’s party and the Houthis are looking for excuses to delay their arrival at a precise time, but it’s expected that they will arrive later in Kuwait on Tuesday,” one of the officials said.
Yemeni government officials accused the Shi’ite rebels known as Houthis of intentionally delaying the peace process. It’s aimed at ending an 18-month conflict that has killed more than 6,000 people and created a humanitarian crisis. Rebel delegates had failed to arrive for the talks.
Earlier,Yemen Foreign Minister Abdel Malek told the state news agency, Saba, that “we are ready for a political transition which excludes no one… and we will give everything we can to alleviate the suffering.”
The Houthis also had hinted at reconciliation, with spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam using Kuwaiti media to call for “a consensus authority during a definite transitional phase to decide every political dispute.”
Peace talks face a number of hurdles, from the spread of warlords to the deepening of a security vacuum that has allowed al Qaeda fighters to seize territory and opened a path for ISIS militants to launch attacks.