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U.N. announces Yemen talks, Iran to allow ship inspection

CommoditiesMay 20, 2015 11:01AM ET
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© Reuters. United Nations envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed walks at Sanaa International Aiport upon his departure

By Louis Charbonneau and Sam Wilkin

UNITED NATIONS/DUBAI (Reuters) - U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday announced talks between warring Yemeni parties in Geneva on May 28 to end over seven weeks of war, as Iran agreed for international inspections of an aid ship sailing to Yemen.

The moves are aimed at defusing the deepening crisis in the southern Arabian Peninsula, where Saudi-led forces killed at least 15 Houthis in the latest air strikes in a campaign to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and regional Shi'ite powerhouse Iran are in a tussle over influence in the Middle East, where sectarian tensions are fuelling civil strife in Syria and Iraq that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.

"The Secretary-General is pleased to announce the launch of inclusive consultations starting on 28 May in Geneva to restore momentum towards a Yemeni-led political transition process," the U.N. statement issued in New York said.

It said the initiative, which would bring together the Yemeni government and other parties, including the Houthis, followed extensive consultations by the secretary-general's special envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed has visited Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Egypt and was due to travel to Iran as he pushes for an end to the fighting that has killed more than 1,800 people since March.

A U.N. Security Council source said Ban was expected to attend the opening session.

The foreign minister of the exiled Yemeni government based in Saudi Arabia appeared surprised by the announcement and said the Houthis must first disarm and quit cities they seized since last September first.

"We didn't get an official invitation," Reyad Yassin Abdulla said by phone. "It's very short notice. If it happens, it shouldn't be on May 28," he added.

But Yemen's U.N. Ambassador Khaled Alyemany said all parties, including the Houthis, would attend.

"Of course President Hadi will be represented in Geneva," he told reporters in New York. "He might be sending Vice President and Prime Minister (Khaled) Bahah, he might be sending somebody else."

A conference organized by the Yemeni government, which was not attended by the Houthis and their ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, concluded in Riyadh on Tuesday by calling on the Houthis to drop their weapons and withdraw from the cities they had captured before any talks could begin.

IRANIAN AID SHIP INSPECTION

The U.N. announcement came as Iran announced that the Iranian cargo ship sailing to Yemen with 2,500 tonnes of food and medical supplies would submit to international inspections in Djibouti before continuing on to Yemen's Hodaida port, which is under Houthi control.

The move reduces the risk of a potential showdown between the vessel, which had been escorted by Iranian warships, and Saudi-led forces enforcing inspections on vessels entering Yemeni ports to prevent arms supplies from reaching the Houthis.

"We have decided to dock our ship in Djibouti so the United Nations inspection protocol can take place," Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.

The vessel's voyage had threatened to escalate the regional confrontation over Yemen, in which Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Muslim allies have carried out almost two months of air raids on Houthi fighters it says are armed by Shi'ite power Iran. Tehran dismisses the allegation.

Saudi-led forces have imposed searches on all ships trying to enter Yemen to prevent weapons reaching the Houthis, who control much of the country.

Reuters ship tracking data showed the Iran Shahed positioned southwest of Aden at 1446 GMT (1046 ET) on Wednesday.

Abdollahian also said Iran would send an aid flight to Yemen through Djibouti on Thursday, a possible sign that Iran will begin to divert all of its Yemen-bound aid through the hub.

Saudi-led war planes last month bombed the runways of Sanaa and Hodaida airports as it tried to stop an Iranian plane from landing there without permission. Tehran said the plane was delivering humanitarian supplies.

Iran has condemned the air strikes in Yemen and officials in Tehran have previously said they would not let Saudi-led forces inspect the cargo ship.

SUSTAINED BOMBING

Residents said on Wednesday that overnight, warplanes carried out the most sustained bombardment of Yemen's capital Sanaa since the offensive started, hitting army bases and weapons depots.

The coalition has been bombing Houthi forces since March 26 in a bid to restore Hadi to power after the Shi'ite Muslim group forced him to flee the country.

Tribal sources along the Saudi-Yemeni border also said that more than 15 Houthi fighters and at least one Saudi officer were killed in intense clashes along their common border near the Saudi city of Najran.

Planes also bombed a Yemeni army camp in the northern border province of Hajjah. Residents said huge explosions had been heard at the camp, in a sign the strike might have hit missile storage facilities.

U.N. announces Yemen talks, Iran to allow ship inspection
 

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