Houthis Finally Arrive for Yemen Peace Talks After 25 Hour Delay

Houthis Yemen peace talks Geneva
Armed Houthi followers rally against Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa June 14, 2015. Houthi forces and their army allies in Yemen seized the capital of a large desert province on the border with Saudi Arabia on Sunday, residents said, an important victory for the group ahead of peace talks in Geneva on Monday. Khaled Abdullah/REUTERS

UN peace talks in Geneva focused on the Yemeni conflict were left hanging by a thread today after the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels were reportedly blocked from flying.

The talks were attended by a delegation from the exiled Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and were opened with a call for a humanitarian ceasefire to mark the beginning of Ramadan on Wednesday by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

However, the Houthi delegation was left stranded in Djibouti for 25 hours after several countries, including Egypt, reportedly blocked their plane from using their airspace. A Houthi leader blamed the UN for the failed journey and said that members of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition had placed obstacles in their path.

As this article was going to publication, the editor of Sanaa's Yemen Post newspaper tweeted that the Houthis' plane had finally set off for Geneva.

The delay in the Houthis' arrival marks a stuttering start to the peace talks aimed at resolving the desperate humanitarian situation in Yemen. Some 20 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, equivalent to 80% of the country's population, according to the UN.

Meanwhile, further airstrikes were reported in Yemen today, with seven airstrikes reportedly hitting the capital within a 10-minute period.

According to Tobias Borck, Middle East analyst for UK-based security thinktank Rusi, the Houthis' late arrival is symptomatic of the talks, which are being referred to as "preliminary inclusive consultations" by the UN.

"It's a bit of a metaphor for the rest of the talks, which is that I wouldn't expect a lot. The fact that we are not calling them peace talks but 'preliminary inclusive consultations' also tells you quite a lot," says Borck.

The talks were originally scheduled to begin on Sunday but were pushed back to Monday due to the Houthis' delay.

The Iranian-backed Shiite rebels, who overran the capital in September and have taken control of large parts of the country since, reportedly refused to board a plane in Sanaa on Saturday as it was due to stop in Saudi Arabia.

The talks are bringing together representatives of the Hadi government and the Houthis, as well as members of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh's party and other opposition groups. Saudi and Iranian officials were not believed to be in attendance.

Ban today called for a two-week humanitarian ceasefire beginning on Wednesday, saying that the Islamic holy month of Ramadan should be a period for "harmony, peace and reconciliation".

Borck says such an outcome is unlikely considering the demands on both sides. He says that Hadi's delegation will be looking for an implementation of the UN Security Council resolution 2216, which would require the Houthis to withdraw from all areas seized during the outbreak of conflict. The Houthis, on the other hand, will be demanding an end to Saudi airstrikes.

Separately, the Iranian deputy foreign minister travelled to Saudi Arabia for a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which begins in Jeddah tomorrow and where Yemen will be high on the agenda.

The move is significant since it is the first high-level visit by an Iranian official to Saudi Arabia since the Yemeni conflict began in March.

However, according to Miriam Goldman, Yemen analyst at the Levantine Group, the Saudi talks are unlikely to produce any further results than those in Geneva.

"The OIC isn't known for making ground-breaking impact on conflicts, although they did suspend Syria's membership, and with the size of the organization and presence of opposing parties, I'd be surprised if participants did more than talk," says Goldman.

Houthis Finally Arrive for Yemen Peace Talks After 25 Hour Delay | World