Yemen peace talks suspended after rebel raid

Houthis' desire for peace questioned after attack on camp of neutral soldiers on the same day parties held first direct negotiations in Kuwait.

Yemeni security forces inspect the site of a car-bomb attack targeting Aden’s governor and police chief in the Mansoura district on May 1, 2016. Saleh Al Obeidi / AFP
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Aden // Yemen’s government on Sunday suspended direct peace talks with the Houthis and their allies after the rebels stormed a military camp in violation of a ceasefire.

The rebel attack on the Amaliqa brigade camp in Amran province late on Saturday had “torpedoed” the talks, foreign minister Abdelmalek Al Mekhlafi, the government’s top delegate at the negotiations in Kuwait, said in a tweet.

“The delegation of the republic of Yemen has suspended its participation in Kuwait talks because of the continued violations by rebels and their takeover of Al Amaliqa base,” Mr Al Mekhlafi said.

The suspension will last “until guarantees for compliance were provided”, he added.

The government and rebel delegations met face to face for the first time on Saturday in the UN-mediated talks that began on April 21 following a truce that took effect on April 10. The UN special envoy to Yemen had reported steady progress in the negotiations to end more than a year of fighting between the Iran-backed rebels, who are allied to forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and pro-government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition that includes the UAE.

The soldiers at the Amaliqa camp, north of the rebel-held capital Sanaa, had chosen to stay neutral in the conflict.

“The Houthi rebels tried to seize weapons from the brigade, and this is a new indication that they do not want peace,” said Abdullah Hizam, director of the Saba state news agency, who is in Kuwait with the government delegation.

The Houthis had no reason to attack the camp, and this, along with ceasefire violations in several provinces, had convinced the government negotiators that it would not be possible to continue talks while the war was continuing, Mr Hizam told The National.

“The government delegation has two main conditions to return to the peace talks. The first one is the implementation of the ceasefire in all provinces, including Taez, and the second is that the Houthis withdraw from the Amaliqa camp,” Mr Hizam said.

The Houthi delegation had not yet responded to the government’s suspension of talks, he said.

“We do not know when the peace talks will resume, but this depends on the rebels – whether they want a peaceful solution or not.”

The developments dealt a blow to the hopes of Yemenis for an end to the conflict that has killed more than 6,400 people, forced millions from their homes and created severe shortages of essential goods.

Ammar Awadh, 29, a Sanaa resident said the storming of the Amaliqa camp was a clear message that the Houthis were pursuing a military solution.

“The Saudi-led air strikes stopped targeting the Houthis, but the Houthis are still advancing on the ground – so, there is no sign of peaceful solution in Yemen,” he said.

The chaos created by the war has also allowed the Yemen-based branch of Al Qaeda and its rival ISIL to seize territory and launch attacks on government officials.

On Sunday, a car bombing targeting the police chief and the governor of Aden killed five of their guards and injured eight.

The bombing targeted a convoy in which governor Aidarous Al Zabidi and Brigadier Shalal Shaei were leaving after a meeting at the headquarters of the coalition forces in Aden, said police spokesman Abdul Rahman Al Naqeeb.

Both men were unharmed.

"The car tried to get close to the governor and chief of the police, but another car of the convoy blocked it and it exploded near the guards' car," Mr Al Naqeeb told The National.

It was the fourth attempt on Maj Gen Al Shaie’s life since December, and followed a car bombing at his home on Thursday in which two guards were injured.

There was no claim of responsibility for either attack but Brig Al Shaie said after Thursday’s bombing that Al Qaeda sleeper cells remained in the city despite an operation that drove the group’s fighters from Aden in late March.

That was followed last month by an offensive against Al Qaeda in several southern provinces. Last week pro-government fighters led by UAE and Saudi special forces forced the extremists from their stronghold Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt province.

* With reporting from Agence France-Presse