JEDDAH: Houthi militia have been accused of setting out to thwart United Nations-sponsored peace talks on Yemen following the failure of a rebel delegation to appear at the Geneva negotiations.
Discussions aimed at ending the three-year conflict were expected to begin on Thursday, but the Houthi team’s no-show left the talks in doubt, sparking frustration among negotiators.
The Houthi delegation failed to arrive following a series of last-minute demands and a claim that it lacked the necessary flight authorization to leave Sanaa in Yemen.
However, high-level anonymous sources in the Yemeni Civil Aviation and Meteorology Authority later revealed a copy of a flight permit showing the Houthi delegation had permission to take off from Sanaa airport bound for Geneva. The copy of the permit was obtained by the Yemeni online newspaper Al-Mashhad Al-Yemeni. According to the aviation authority sources, the Houthi delegation offered “vague and flimsy excuses” aimed at disrupting the UN-sponsored consultations. Earlier the delegation demanded that their flight be allowed to carry wounded Iranian and Hezbollah fighters to Oman for treatment before resuming the journey to Geneva.
The Houthis’ conditions were made after talks with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon to thwart the peace negotiations, the sources said.
The sources pointed out that the Yemeni government had not put any conditions on the negotiations, such as the release of political prisoners and individuals under house arrest, including the brother of Mahmoud Al-Sobaihi, the Yemeni defense minister.
Col. Turki Al-Maliki, spokesman for the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen, which includes Saudi Arabia, said the Houthis are not serious about the Geneva talks.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Yamani said that the government will not wait “indefinitely” for the Houthis to attend the talks.
Sources in Geneva said the UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, had met with the Yemeni government delegation to discuss the Houthi no-show, and had been told that talks could not begin until the militia delegation arrived.
Al-Yamani said that divisions within the Houthi militia were hampering peace talks.
“The Houthi representatives’ ridiculous excuses are an attempt to cover up a fundamental issue: The rebel militia is divided over who should represent them in Geneva,” he said.
“There are hawks who, on instructions from Iran, refuse to engage in any peace process. Iran wants to use the Houthi movement as a claw to destabilize and insecure Yemen.”
The Yemeni foreign minister denied reports that the government had given the Houthi delegation an ultimatum.
“We are not setting any deadlines. We came to Geneva at the invitation of UN … to participate in negotiations to strengthen confidence-building measures,” he said.