Warring parties in Yemen have agreed to take part in new peace talks in the region next week, the U.N. envoy for Yemen announced Thursday.
Special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed welcomed the commitment of the embattled government, the Shiite Houthi rebels and Yemen's former ruling party, the General People's Congress, to attend the talks. He said in a statement that he will announce a venue and date in the coming days.
Yemen's conflict pits the exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a U.S. ally, against the Iranian-backed Houthis — who seized the capital, Sanaa, last year — and military units loyal to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
A Saudi-led and U.S.-backed coalition began launching airstrikes against the Houthis and their allies on March 26, shortly after Hadi fled a rapid rebel advance on the south. Pro-government troops, backed by the coalition of Sunni Arab nations, have regained strategic ground from the rebels, including the southern port of Aden.
The conflict has killed more than 4,000 people, leaving the Arab world's poorest country in the grip of a humanitarian crisis and on the brink of famine.
Several previous attempts to get the parties to end the conflict have failed, and it has proven nearly impossible to arrange a humanitarian pause to deliver desperately needed aid.
Ahmed urged participants in the upcoming talks "to engage constructively and in good faith, recognizing the need for a rapid end to the violence which has brought intolerable levels of suffering to the Yemeni people."
He said the aim of the U.N.-brokered talks is "to create a framework for an agreement" on a cease-fire and the resumption of the roadmap to a peaceful political transition, as called for in an April 14 Security Council resolution.
British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft expressed strong support for the U.N. envoy and said the talks are expected to begin before the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, which is Sept. 23.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters that he expected the council to issue a statement Friday in support of the new round of talks, which he called "overdue."
"We're very encouraged that the talks will start," he said. But Churkin remained cautious. "I'd like to be optimistic, but it will be a long, difficult haul," he said.
A statement from Hadi's office following a meeting on the issue of new talks affirmed the president's "complete support for the sincere efforts exerted by the special envoy." It urged Ahmed to "exert efforts to achieve the public and honest commitment on the part of the Houthis and Saleh" to implement the April 14 council resolution unconditionally.
Associated Press Writers Cara Anna at the United Nations and Ahmed al-Haj in Sanaa, Yemen, contributed to this report.
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