UN-sponsored Yemen peace talks start, ceasefire takes effect
GENEVA / DUBAI
This handout picture realeased by UN Photo shows UN Special Envoy on the Yemen crisis Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed (l) attending the opening of Yemen peace talks on December 15, 2015 in Magglingen, Northen Switzerland. AFP PhotoA ceasefire took effect in Yemen on Dec. 15, as parties to the civil war started United Nations-sponsored peace talks in Switzerland in a new push to end months of fighting that have killed nearly 6,000 people, a U.N. spokesman said.
“U.N. Secretary-General Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed announces today the start of cessation of hostilities in Yemen which he considers an initial first step towards building a lasting peace in the country,” U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told a news briefing in Geneva on Dec. 15.
Ahmed said in a statement released in Geneva that Yemen’s peace talks were underway and urged the parties to ensure full compliance with the ceasefire.
Fighting raged across Yemen ahead of the truce which began at 12:00 p.m. local time (0900 GMT), with residents in the northern part of the country saying 15 civilians were killed in air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition, Reuters reported.
The alliance said its forces captured a main Red Sea island on Dec. 15, giving the coalition control over the strait of Bab al-Mandab.
Army commanders said the truce appeared to be largely holding, though Saudi state TV reported some 20 violations by the Iran-allied Houthis in the first hour of the ceasefire.
Yemen’s Prime Minister Khaled Bahah on Dec. 15 called on Shiite Houthi rebels to lay down their weapons.
“We need to restore the country,” Bahah said in the Qatari capital Doha, according to Agence France-Presse. “We need the Houthis to surrender their weapons and arms and leave the government institutions to restore legitimacy.”
Bahah was delivering a speech at Qatar University coinciding with the start of a seven-day ceasefire as U.N.-brokered peace talks opened in Switzerland.
An earlier round of U.N.-backed indirect talks in Geneva in June ended without an agreement, with both sides blaming each other for their collapse.
Unlike the previous round, the current session opened with an agenda being agreed and with senior delegates meeting face-to-face away from television cameras.
The main task for the negotiations will be agreeing on how to implement a U.N. Security Council Resolution in April that called on the Houthis to quit the capital, Sanaa, and other cities they seized in late 2014 and early 2015.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the warring parties in Yemen have promised it “unconditional movement” of supplies and medical teams under a U.N. ceasefire.
Nineteen trucks pre-loaded with medical supplies in Aden and Sanaa were due to begin moving later on Dec. 15 to start distribution across Yemen, WHO representative Ahmed Shadoul told a news briefing in Geneva.
Some 150 metric tons of supplies in WHO’s warehouse in Djibouti are expected to be shipped to Sanaa on Dec 21 or 22, he said. From there, ships will take them to other Yemeni ports. “It depends on access, we will plan more if access is really granted. This is just a test,” he said.