Yemen govt urges UN action over rebel fire on besieged third city

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Kuwait City (AFP)

The head of the Yemeni government delegation at troubled peace talks in Kuwait demanded action from UN mediators on Thursday over rebel shelling of besieged third city Taez.

Foreign Minister Abdulmalek al-Mikhlafi said the artillery fire by rebels was in contravention of undertakings they had given when face-to-face negotiations resumed on Wednesday following a three-day walkout by his team.

But the Huthi Shiite rebels countered that it was pro-government forces that were stoking the violence in Taez in a bid to avoid holding serious negotiations on a political settlement.

Mikhlafi said his negotiators had submitted proposals to UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed for implementing an April 11 ceasefire in Taez, where loyalist troops have been under rebel siege for months, trapping tens of thousands of civilians.

"We received a racist response" from the rebels, the minister said on Twitter, demanding action from the UN envoy.

He accused the rebels and their allies in renegade army units still loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh of "attacks on civilians in Taez".

But rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdessalam said it was the government that was responsible for the flare-up in Taez.

"The forces of aggression are blocking political discussions in Kuwait... by invoking false pretexts alongside a serious escalation," Abdessalam said on Twitter.

Taez lies on one of the fault lines of the conflict that has raged since March last year between the rebels and the government and its allies in a Saudi-led military coalition.

The city was part of north Yemen before the unification of the country in 1990 but, unlike the capital and the northern mountains where the Huthi Shiite rebels have their main support base, it is overwhelmingly Sunni.

Mikhlafi warned that rebel shelling of Taez would "have serious consequences on the peace process," unless the international community honours its undertakings to shore up the fragile ceasefire.

The warring parties have traded repeated allegations of truce violations.

The government delegation pulled out of the talks on Sunday in protest at the rebels' overrunning of one of the few loyalist bases in the northern mountains in what it said was a clear breach.

There has been mounting international pressure to end the conflict that has killed more than 6,400 people and displaced 2.8 million since March last year.

The hard-won talks opened in Kuwait on April 21 but the first round of face-to-face negotiations was held only on Saturday.