Yemen government sets conditions for talks with Houthi rebels

Ernst and Young appointed to audit central bank accounts after UN claims

epa07395986 Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, Prime Minister of Yemen, adresses his statement, during the opening of the High-Level Segment of the 40th session of the Human Rights Council, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, 25 February 2019.  EPA/SALVATORE DI NOLFI
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Yemen’s Prime Minister Maeen Saeed said on Monday that successful peace talks with the Houthi rebels require a clear “path and intention”.

The country has been mired in a deadly conflict since the rebels drove the government out of the capital Sanaa in 2014.

“We support efforts towards a peace plan but the Houthis have no intention of doing so,” Mr Saeed told Sky News Arabia.

"We are working on ways to not complicate the lives of the Yemeni people."

For talks to occur there must be a “clear path and intention for discussion", he said.

Mr Saeed referred to the bombardment of Aden airport last month as he and his Cabinet arrived in the southern city from Riyadh. At least 30 people were killed and dozens injured.

The Iran-backed rebels denied carrying out the attack, but Mr Saeed said the international community knew they were responsible.

“It was planned by Iran,” he said. “The attack is criminal and was aimed at ending the government.”

He said security in Aden, the current seat of government, was stable despite the danger to officials.

Mr Saeed's government also announced on Sunday that it had appointed Ernst & Young to audit its central bank accounts, in response to accusations by UN officials that it laundered money.

The audit will include internal supervision and control, as well as a review of spending, Mr Saeed’s office said.

He said his government was determined to fight corruption “and we are working continuously to eradicate it".

"We are working within the framework of a consensual government, and the priority now is to reach peace," he said.

UN monitors said in a report that $2 billion had been deposited the Central Bank of Yemen in January 2018, under a development and reconstruction programme.

The money was to support Yemen’s purchases of commodities such as rice, sugar, milk and flour, to strengthen food security and stabilise domestic prices.

The government hopes to clear up any allegations through the audit.

The monitors also accused the Houthis of using at least $1.8bn of state revenue in 2019 to fund its war effort.

The news of the audit comes as the UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, held talks on Yemen with Iran's Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif in Tehran.

The visit comes as part of Mr Griffiths efforts to support a negotiated political solution to the conflict.

His immediate priority is to support agreement between the warring parties on a ceasefire, urgent humanitarian measures and a resumption of the political process.