Geneva, Asharq Al-Awsat—United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday opened Geneva peace talks between Yemen’s internationally recognized government and the Houthi movement currently in control of large parts of the country.
The start of the talks as scheduled puts an end to days of speculation that they would not take place, after several delays and reports that the Houthi delegation had not arrived in the Swiss city on their scheduled flight from Sana’a on Saturday. The delegation eventually arrived in Geneva on Sunday evening.
The talks are expected to last for two or three days, and will begin with “proximity talks” which will see UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed meeting with each side—the government and the Houthis—individually before they sit down around one table.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all “armed groups” to withdraw from cities and civilian areas and called for a two-week ceasefire in the country.
The Shi’ite Houthis, whose militias have been spreading across Yemen since their occupation of the capital Sana’a last September, have previously been offered a five-day ceasefire by the Saudi-led coalition targeting the group in the country. However, the Iran-backed group did not abide by the conditions of the truce, which stipulated they cease all hostile action against civilians in areas under their control.
On Monday, Yemen’s Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin told reporters the government would be willing to discuss a limited ceasefire with the Houthis but only if they withdrew from the areas under their control, released more than 6,000 prisoners, and complied with a UN Security Council resolution adopted in April.
The Houthis have so far refused to abide by Resolution 2216 which calls for their withdrawal from areas they have occupied and for Houthi militias to stop targeting civilians.
Resolution 2216 is meant to form the basis of the talks in Geneva, with the government withdrawing from previously scheduled talks on May 28 due to the Houthis not abiding by it.
However, comments in the last few days by the UN secretary-general and UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzy calling for both sides to hold the talks with no preconditions have fueled speculation Resolution 2216 may be dropped as the main basis for the talks in place of the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference and Gulf Initiative on Yemen agreed to in January 2014 between the country’s different political factions.