World News

Saudi-backed Yemen government agrees to peace talks

Posted November 19, 2018 10:31 a.m. EST

— Yemen's Saudi-backed government confirmed it will participate in United Nations-sponsored peace talks in Sweden, the country's official news agency reported Monday.

The government, headed by exiled President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, is the first of the warring Yemeni groups to publicly commit to peace talks spearheaded by UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths. The discussions would be the first official negotiations since talks were held between Yemeni parties in Kuwait in 2016.

The announcement came as the United Kingdom was expected to table a draft resolution on Yemen at the UN Security Council later Monday.

Rebels in Yemen earlier said they would cease missile and drone strikes on Saudi coalition targets.

"We are willing to freeze and stop military operations on all fronts to reach a just and honorable peace if they really want peace for the Yemeni people," Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, head of Yemen's Houthi Supreme Revolutionary Committee, said in a statement Monday.

Saudi Arabia is facing growing pressure to put a halt to the violence in Yemen after more than three years of devastating war.

The United States has backed the Saudi-led coalition in its fight to expel Houthi rebels from Yemen, but in recent weeks it has called for an end to the coalition bombing campaign in the country.

On October 30, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the US State Department called on participants in the Yemen conflict to agree to a ceasefire "in the next 30 days." He also said he expected to see the warring parties at peace talks.

"Thirty days from now we want to see everybody around a peace table based on a ceasefire, based on a pullback from the border and then based on ceasing dropping of bombs that will permit the (UN) special envoy, Martin Griffiths -- he's very good, he knows what he's doing -- to get them together in Sweden and end this war," said Mattis.

Earlier this month, the US announced that it would no longer refuel Saudi aircraft conducting strike missions over Yemen -- the US provides refueling for some 20% of Saudi aircraft.

The Yemen conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels has killed at least 10,000 people. UN experts say the Saudi coalition's bombings of civilians are potential war crimes.

Saudi Arabia's partial blockade of the country has deprived 18 million people of reliable access to food, creating the conditions for the worst famine in 100 years, according to the UN.

The World Food Program said Friday that the country is "marching to the brink of starvation." Its executive director, David Beasley, who just returned from Yemen, told reporters he touched babies who felt like "ghosts" due to starvation.