UN-sponsored Yemen peace talks begin

Talks aimed at ending Yemen’s war has opened in Kuwait, with Kuwait’s top diplomat appealing to both sides to “turn war into peace” after a year of conflict which has killed more than 6200 people and caused a humanitarian crisis.

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Yemen’s foreign minister warned against high expectations from the UN-sponsored talks, which brought together the Houthi group and its General People’s Congress party allies with the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The talks, originally scheduled to start on Monday, were delayed over accusations by the Houthi group of truce violations and disagreements over the agenda for the negotiations.

Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah, in an opening speech at Bayan Palace, urged Yemenis to “turn war into peace and backwardness into development”.

The talks are based on UN Security Council resolution 2216 which calls for the Houthis to withdraw from areas they seized since 2014 and hand heavy weapons back to the government, UN special envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said.

“The choice today is one of two options: a safe homeland that ensures security for all of its citizens … or remnants of a land whose sons die every day,” Ould Cheikh Ahmed said in an opening speech on Thursday.

The talks are expected to focus on creating a more inclusive government and restoring state authority over the country, which is now divided between the Houthis and Hadi’s administration.

The war has caused a major humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula. Apart from the more than 6200 killed, the United Nations says some 35,000 people have been wounded and more than 2.5 million people displaced.

The fighting has also allowed the militant Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Islamic State to consolidate their presence in the country next door to the world’s top oil exporter.

The United States and the Saudi-led coalition welcomed the start of the talks.

“We urge the parties to fully engage in good faith in order to end the military conflict immediately and to return to a peaceful political process,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in Washington.

The Saudi-led coalition spokesman, Brigadier-General Ahmed Asseri, speaking to Dubai-based al-Arabia Television, said: “Everybody knows that the way out in the end is political, and the issue will not end through military means, and the coalition has no desire to … prolong the situation.”

The crisis began in September 2014 when the Iran-allied Houthis seized the capital Sanaa. A Saudi-led Arab alliance intervened last year, launching a campaign of mostly air strikes against the Houthis in support of Hadi’s forces.

The meeting adjourned until Friday afternoon.