- U.N.-sponsored peace talks to end the violence in Yemen begin Monday in Geneva, with civilian casualties mounting from Saudi-led airstrikes and indiscriminate shelling and fierce ground fighting by the warring sides.
Humanitarian groups on the ground treating thousands of victims and U.N. aid agencies have been calling for a cease-fire for weeks, or at least a humanitarian pause, so that they can distribute life-saving aid to millions of people caught up in the fighting, which has flared since late March. Over 1 million people have been internally displaced.
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said that between March 26, when Saudi Arabia and a coalition of countries began bombing Yemen, until last Wednesday, at least 1,362 civilians have been killed and 3,312 injured in the fighting.
Humanitarian concerns, including the full resumption of aid shipments, featured prominently in a meeting Sunday in Geneva between the U.N.’s special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheik Ahmed, and ambassadors of the so-called “Group of Sixteen,” which includes the United States, Russia, China, France, Great Britain, and regional powers including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, senior diplomats familiar with the meeting said.
Matthew H. Tueller, the U.S. ambassador to Yemen, took part in the G16 gathering. “We are grateful to the U.N. secretary general and the special envoy for Yemen for the extensive efforts they are making to find ways to effectively deliver aid in Yemen,” he said. The United States has provided logistical support to the Saudi-led air campaign, which is aimed at blunting an offensive by Iranian-allied Houthi rebels.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met Sunday with Abdul Latif bin Rashid al Zayani, the secretary general of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia.
The Yemeni political groupings expected to take part in Monday’s meeeting include the Saudi-backed government of exiled Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the Houthi rebels, and representatives of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose allies have sided with the Houthis.
Ahmed is expected initially to hold “proximity” talks, shuttling between the warring Yemeni sides in separate rooms in an effort to persuade them to conduct joint talks. Senior western diplomats cautioned “there was no meeting of the minds” at the moment.
The special envoy , sources said, is also expected to push hard for a cease-fire for the whole of Yemen, or if this does not seem feasible for local cease-fires for the cities of Sanaa, Aden and Sadaa.
Senior U.N. diplomats told McClatchy that if a comprehensive cease-fire does not materialize, they are hoping for at least a pause of 14 days.