Sana’a Yemen’s Iran-backed Al Houthi militants and their allies have agreed to join delayed United Nations-brokered peace talks in Kuwait, their representatives said on Wednesday.
Kuwait’s information ministry said the talks — the most important attempt yet to resolve Yemen’s devastating conflict — would open on Thursday.
The Yemen government delegation has threatened to pull out of peace talks in Kuwait if the Al Houthis failed to show up on Thursday's talks.
On Tuesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had urged Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government and the militants to work with his envoy Esmail Ould Shaikh Ahmad “so that talks can start without further delay”.
A Western diplomat in Kuwait said that representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council sent a message to the militants saying they “understand their fears” and urging them to “quickly join” the talks.
Mahdi Al Mashat, a representative of militant leader Abdul Malek Al Houthi, said the militants had been assured that the agenda for the talks would be “clear and tackle issues that could help achieve peaceful solutions”.
In a statement issued late on Tuesday, he said the movement received assurances from Kuwait and Oman that there will be an end to violations of a week-long ceasefire in Yemen by air strikes launched by a Saudi-led coalition.
Saudi Arabia has denied violations and said its air strikes are focused on Al Qaida targets.
A representative of the militant-allied General People’s Congress (GPC) party, Yasser Al Awadi, said on Twitter that his delegation would travel to Kuwait on Thursday.
The GPC is led by former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled the country for 33 years until 2012 and has joined forces with the Al Houthis.
Yemeni sources close to the talks say Al Houthis are demanding the lifting of UN sanctions against Saleh and Al Houthi leaders.
Yemen’s internationally recognised government is demanding Al Houthis abide by a Security Council resolution calling for a political process and for the militants to withdraw from cities they seized while surrendering their weapons.
The talks, which were set to open in Kuwait on Monday, were delayed after Al Houthis failed to show up over alleged violations of the ceasefire.
A military officer said on Wednesday that 16 militants and three pro-government fighters had been killed over the previous 24 hours in clashes in the Nahm region northeast of Sana’a.
Last week, Iran-backed Al Houthi militants agreed to allow Yemen’s legitimate government back to operate in the Yemeni capital Sana’a.They also agreed to hand over heavy arms to the state, Al Houthi spokesman Mohammad Abdul Salam told Kuwait’s daily Al Rai on Friday.
Abdul Salam said the militant group would also allow Yemen’s current vice president Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar, and influential oil and telecom tycoon, Hamad Al Ahmar, back into Sana’a.
The promised concessions by Al Houthis herald a major shift in their policy, analysts say.