Suicide blast kills four soldiers ahead of Yemen peace talks

UN-backed talks to end the war in Yemen are set to start in Kuwait today as a suicide bombing in Aden killed four soldiers, underscoring the urgency of a political solution to the conflict.

Yemeni loyalist forces gather at the scene of a suicide attack on a checkpoint near the international airport in Aden on April 17, 2016. Four Yemeni soldiers were killed in the blast. / AFP / SALEH AL-OBEIDI
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Aden // A suicide bombing in Aden on Sunday killed four soldiers on the eve of UN-backed talks in Kuwait to end the war in Yemen.

The attack took place at a checkpoint near the international airport. A militant drove a vehicle packed with explosives at the soldiers before detonating the bomb.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIL affiliates have carried out a string of attacks against government targets in the city in recent months.

Talks last June and December failed to end the fighting beween Iran-backed Houthi rebels and forces loyal to the internationally recognised government of president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, supported by an Arab coalition that includes the UAE.

However, there have been conciliatory signals before Monday’s negotiations as the humanitarian crisis in Yemen intensifies.

“We are ready for a political transition which excludes no one,” the Yemeni foreign minister Abdel Malek Al Mekhlafi said.

“The world now looks to the Kuwait consultations as a landmark of peace for Yemenis, and we will give everything we can to alleviate the suffering of the people.”

Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam called for “a consensus authority during a transitional phase to decide every political dispute”.

Coalition air strikes and heavy fighting continue in many parts of the country, despite a ceasefire announced last week.

There is also continued shelling in cities such as Taez by the Houthis and their allies, forces loyal to the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Fighting between rebels and loyalists has continued non-stop in Nahm in the north. Fresh clashes on Sunday north-east of Sanaa killed nine pro-government soldiers.

The Houthis recently agreed with Saudi Arabia to reduce attacks on the kingdom in exchange for a halt to Saudi-led air strikes on Sanaa, and the two sides carried out a prisoner exchange.

“This represents the best opportunity to end the war since it started – real progress has been made,” said Adam Baron, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

The fate of Mr Saleh, Yemen’s president of 33 years who was ousted in 2012 and has since formed an alliance with the Houthis, is not known and could complicate transition plans.

While Mr Saleh’s party will take part in the talks, the former leader has refused to depart Yemen’s political scene. “There are a slew of potential spoilers. The past year has seen a proliferation of warlords whose power is tied to the conflict continuing,” Mr Baron said.

The spread of Al Qaeda and ISIL in the south also makes it more difficult to resolve the conflict.

On Friday, an ISIL car bomb exploded in Aden near a building housing the foreign ministry, without causing casualties. ISIL also killed five army recruits in a suicide bombing in Aden on Tuesday.

Mr Hadi’s forces have launched operations against the extremists in recent weeks, backed by the firepower of the Arab coalition.

Late on Saturday, five Al Qaeda militants were killed in coalition air strikes on two vehicles in Jaar, a town in the southern province of Abyan.

Other strikes hit militants in Abyan’s provincial capital Zinjibar. The number of casulties is not known.

On Friday, pro-government forces expelled Al Qaeda fighters from Huta, another provincial capital close to Aden, and arrested 49 suspected militants.

* Reuters and Agence France-Presse