A United Nations conference designed to help forge peace in war-ravaged Yemen has been postponed, a UN official said Sunday, just four days before it was due to begin.
There had been growing uncertainty over which of the warring Yemeni parties would attend the talks, slated to begin on Thursday in Geneva, and the postponement is a further blow to UN efforts to broker peace in a country where nearly 2,000 people have been killed since March.
“I can confirm that the meeting has been postponed,” the UN official told AFP, without providing further immediate explanation.
Underlining the difficulty of trying to get the rivals around the negotiating table, exiled Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi laid out his government’s demands to attend the talks in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, insisting Shiite Huthi rebels must withdraw from territory they have seized.
Hadi fled to the Saudi capital Riyadh along with his government in late March when the Iran-backed rebels advanced on his southern stronghold, the port city of Aden.
He reiterated his position on Sunday during talks in Riyadh with the UN special envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
The embattled leader demanded full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2216.
The April resolution called on the Huthis to relinquish territory they seized and surrender weapons they took from the army and other state institutions.
The spokesman of the exiled government, Raja Badi, told AFP the resolution “must be implemented in order to bolster the talks.”
“It is difficult for us to attend consultations in Geneva on Thursday under the present circumstances,” he said, before the announcement that the talks had been mothballed.
– Aid trickles in –
More than 545,000 people have been displaced in the Yemeni conflict and although some aid trickled in last week during a five-day ceasefire, people still lack basic needs, including water, electricity and fuel.
A ship carrying 460 tonnes of Emirati humanitarian aid docked Sunday in Aden.
The shipment, including medical and food supplies, is the second from the United Arab Emirates following the delivery of 1,200 tonnes of aid last week, said local aid coordinator Ali al-Bikri.
Another ship carrying 400 tonnes of diesel also arrived on Friday, said Bikri, who was appointed by Yemen’s government-in-exile.
“Aden needs urgently at least 200,000 food rations for the displaced,” Bikri added.
Aden has been rocked by fierce fighting between the Huthi rebels backed by troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and southern fighters allied with the exiled Hadi.
– Warplanes circle Sanaa –
In a bid to restore the authority of Hadi and his government, Saudi Arabia has been leading an air campaign against the Huthis since March 26.
The Saudi-led coalition bombarded Shiite rebels across the country at the weekend.
Air raids struck several targets in the evening, including the landing strip at Aden airport, and the city’s northern suburbs, officials said.
Strikes by the coalition also hit positions of the pro-Saleh elite Republican Guard in the central province of Taez, as well as rebel posts in Raymah province, west of the capital Sanaa, witnesses said.
Sources close to the Huthis said at least 10 of the rebels’ fighters were killed in the air strikes.
Ten civilians also died and 80 were wounded in shelling of several neighbourhoods of Taez, Yemen’s third largest city, medics said.
Coalition warplanes circled Sanaa several times on Sunday, prompting rebel forces on the ground to open fire on them with anti-aircraft guns, triggering panic among residents.
Witnesses said a Republican Guard base west of Sanaa was hit three times by coalition raids, after a night in which strikes also targeted arms depots belonging to the rebels southwest of the capital.