Ban calls for immediate humanitarian truce in Yemen
UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Monday called for an immediate two-week humanitarian pause in Yemen to mark Ramadan as high stakes talks got underway in Geneva to try and resolve the bloody conflict.
International powers are keen for a speedy resolution, fearing the growing power of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemeni branch of the jihadist network which has taken advantage of the chaos to seize territory.
"We do not have a moment to lose," Ban said, adding that the fighting was being exploited "by some of the world's most ruthless terrorist groups."
"I hope this week starts the beginning of the end of the fighting," Ban said.
"Ramadan begins in two days," he said, stressing that the holy Muslim month should be a period for "harmony, peace and reconciliation".
"I have emphasised the importance of another humanitarian pause for two weeks," Ban said, after meeting the government delegation.
Yemen has been wracked by conflict between Iran-backed Shiite rebels and exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's internationally recognised government and "claimed more than 2,600 lives," Ban said.
Ban dismissed fears that the talks would be torpedoed by the non-arrival of an Iran-backed rebel delegation in time for the talks. The team's plane was delayed in Djibouti, according to UN and diplomatic sources.
He said the delay was due to logistical reasons and added: "I am pleased to know that the other parties are on their way" and were expected to arrive later Monday.
- 'Yemen a time bomb' -
Underscoring the need for immediate action in Yemen, Ban said: "The ticking clock is not a time piece, it is a time bomb."
The UN's peace envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said in a statement that Monday would see the start of "preliminary inclusive consultations" on the war.
Analysts however said a breakthrough was "very unlikely". The delegations will not even begin talks in the same room.
Instead they will start with "what we call proximity talks" in two separate rooms with the envoy shuttling between them "with the hope they can be brought together", UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told reporters in Geneva.
The rebels, supported by military units loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, have seized control of large parts of the country including the capital Sanaa, forcing Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia in February.
Fearing an Iran-friendly regime on its southern border, Riyadh has been leading a campaign of air strikes against the rebels since March 26 but has so far failed to force them from territory they have seized.
Meanwhile the UN has described the country's humanitarian crisis as "catastrophic", with 80 percent of the population -- 20 million civilians -- in need of aid.
- Breakthrough 'unlikely' -
Any chance of success at the first talks between the warring factions since Hadi fled Sanaa was "very unlikely", Yemen expert Laurent Bonnefoy said, adding: "Indeed, each side appears to be inflexible, disinclined toward compromise".
Nevertheless, the talks could offer breathing space, allowing Saudi Arabia to announce a truce that would launch more serious discussions as well as "save face by stopping an offensive they are clearly unable to win on the field," said the analyst from the International Research Centre at Sciences Po.
On Sunday the rebels faced little resistance as they took control of Al-Hazm, the main city of Jawf province, residents and pro-government fighters said.
The city lies only 150 kilometres (90 miles) south of the border with Saudi Arabia.
In Yemen's main southern city of Aden, coalition air strikes on Sunday killed 13 rebels, a military source close to them said.
Fighting raged on across several districts of Aden, residents said, accusing the rebels of firing Katyusha rockets on residential areas and destroying at least six homes.
Representatives of Hadi's government had arrived on Saturday for the talks, which had been due to start on Sunday but were delayed after the rebels refused to board a UN plane that had been scheduled for a stopover in Saudi Arabia.
The government delegation led by the foreign minister reiterated its demands on Sunday night, including that any ceasefire must see the militias withdraw from all territory they have conquered.
© 2015 AFP