By Abhik CHANDA and Acil TABBARA
Geneva (AFP) June 16, 2015
Iran-backed Yemeni rebels on Tuesday accused Saudi Arabia of trying to sabotage peace talks in Geneva and claimed the exiled government was trying to impose its own agenda on the UN.
The rebels arrived a day late in Geneva on Tuesday for the UN-backed talks after being stranded in Djibouti -- a delay they blamed on Riyadh.
A UN-chartered plane carrying the rebels had left Sanaa on Sunday afternoon but was forced to wait in Djibouti for nearly 24 hours, forcing them to miss Monday's opening of the talks and a meeting with UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
The rebels claimed that Saudi Arabia had asked Egypt and Sudan to close their airspace to the chartered plane.
"It was Saudi Arabia which asked its allies" to take the action with the aim of "torpedoing the negotiations", Adel Shujah, a member of the rebel team, told AFP after arriving in Geneva.
He claimed they were able to travel on to Switzerland only after the United States and Oman intervened.
Nevertheless, the rebels had come seeking dialogue with Saudi Arabia, which has been leading an aerial campaign against the Huthi rebels since March 26, as they want it "to stop the aggression".
The United Nations is desperately trying to get the rebels, who control a large swath of terrain including the capital Sanaa, and the exiled government to agree to a badly-needed humanitarian truce.
But any hope of a thaw appeared bleak with exiled president Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi repeating Tuesday that his side was only prepared to discuss with the rebels a Security Council resolution ordering their withdrawal from seized territory.
And Abdulmalek al-Huthi, the leader of the Shiite rebels who bear his name, appeared equally inflexible.
"They tried to impose their own agenda," said Huthi in a televised speech, accusing the Yemeni government of using the United Nations and special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed as a "tool."
"Leave to the United Nations some neutrality to continue its mission... Stop your continuous attempts to control its new envoy," said Huthi.
Mohammed Zubairi, a member of the rebel's team in Geneva, flatly refused any negotiations with the internationally exiled government.
"We refuse any dialogue with those who have no legitimacy," he said.
Yemen has been wracked by conflict between Iran-backed Shiite rebels and troops loyal to Hadi, who fled to Saudi Arabia in February.
Global powers are keen for a speedy resolution, fearing the growing power of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemeni branch of the jihadist network that has taken advantage of the chaos to seize territory.
The US said Tuesday that the UN talks were "the best way forward for Yemenis" with a political solution "the only way to resolve the crisis."
"We encourage Yemenis participating in the talks to work towards a rapid resumption of the Yemeni political transition process," the State Department's press office director Jeff Rathke told AFP.
- Breakthrough unlikely -
The UN has described Yemen's humanitarian crisis as "catastrophic", with 80 percent of the population -- 20 million people -- in need of aid.
The UN children's agency said Tuesday that at least 279 children had been killed in conflict in Yemen since the Saudi-led strikes began -- a figure four times higher than for the whole of last year.
The rebels' participation in the talks is conditional on them whittling down their inflated presence, UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.
He said before the rebels joined the talks, the UN wanted to ensure they adhered to "the 7+3 principle, that is seven principals and three advisers" on the negotiating team.
The rebels have come with 22 members.
The Mauritanian special envoy for Yemen Ould Cheikh Ahmed also repeated this condition at a press conference late Tuesday.
"Having two delegations in Geneva is an achievement. It is a difficult path," he said.
Both experts and some participants are pessimistic about the outcome of the talks. The positions of the two warring sides are so divergent that they will not be sitting in the same room and the UN will be holding separate consultations with them.
The rebels are supported by military units loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The second day of the talks coincide with reports, confirmed by Al-Qaeda in Yemen, that its leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi, number two in the global jihadist organisation, was killed in a US drone strike.
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