UN envoy visits Yemen for talks with rebels


Sanaa (AFP)

UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed arrived Saturday in Yemen's rebel-held capital to try to restart peace talks between Iran-backed insurgents and the internationally recognised government.

The Mauritanian diplomat met Ali Hajar, a foreign affairs representative of the Huthi rebels, Sanaa airport director Khaled al-Shayef told AFP.

It came a day after the UN envoy held talks in Riyadh with Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

Yemen's Saba news agency said Ould Cheikh Ahmed met Hadi to relaunch "efforts to reestablish peace in Yemen".

"All doors are open to reach peace based on (UN) Security Council resolutions," Hadi was quoted as saying.

Yemen has been gripped by violence since September 2014, when the Iran-backed Huthi rebels, who had long complained of marginalisation, stormed Sanaa and forced the internationally recognised government to flee south.

A Saudi-led coalition began bombing raids on Huthi positions across Yemen in March 2015 but the insurgents still control parts of the country including the capital.

Hadi's government has declared the southern city of Aden to be the country's provisional capital.

The year-long coalition campaign has faced criticism over civilian casualties.

The UN said Friday that Saudi-led raids are responsible for the vast majority of the estimated 3,200 civilian deaths in the Yemen war.

This week coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri told AFP that the alliance was at "the end of the major combat phase", raising hopes of a possible relaunch of peace talks.

Previous UN-sponsored negotiations between rebels and government officials failed to reach a breakthrough, and the most recent round ended in acrimony in December.

Hadi's government insists that the Huthis must abide by UN Security Council resolution 2216, which states the rebels must withdraw from seized territories and disarm, before peace talks can progress.

The World Health Organization says fighting in Yemen has killed more than 6,200 people over the past year and the United Nations has warned of an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe.