RIYADH: The most comprehensive peace talks involving Yemen’s warring factions began in Riyadh on Wednesday as the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen announced a truce that should help end the devastating conflict.
Hundreds of Yemeni politicians, tribal leaders and former and current military and security officials took part in the conference. The Houthis refused to attend the talks initiated by the GCC.
Opening the conference, Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf, Secretary General of the GCC, urged participants to put aside their differences and find a comprehensive solution to end the war.
He stressed that the Gulf bloc would support the results.
“Successful Yemeni-Yemeni consultations are not an option but a duty that requires everyone (to bear) national responsibility and reject all causes of division and internal disparities,” Al-Hajraf said, hailing the swift response from the coalition to the GCC’s demand for a truce.
The coalition announced Tuesday evening that it would end military operations in Yemen to facilitate the success of the talks.
Hans Grundberg, the UN envoy to Yemen, who is currently negotiating similar talks – but with fewer people – in the Jordanian capital, said Riyadh has long played an important role in facilitating peace initiatives.
“Riyadh has provided space for dialogue leading to important agreements, such as the GCC Initiative and the Riyadh Accord. We need the support of the region more than ever to move towards an inclusive political process under the auspices (of the UN),” he said.
The war, he added, has ruined state institutions, the country’s social fabric and economy, and claimed the lives of thousands of Yemeni civilians.
“The longer the conflict lasts, the more severe the impact on civilians and the more difficult it is to reverse the damage. The Yemeni people must see a clear way out.
The envoy said his latest efforts to convince the warring factions to cease fighting during the month of Ramadan have yielded some results.
“For more than two months, I have been engaging all parties to reach a truce and we are making progress. Yemen needs a truce. I am engaging with the parties with a sense of urgency to achieve this truce. by the start of Ramadan.
Tim Lenderking, US envoy to Yemen, also voiced his country’s support for UN and GCC calls for an end to all hostilities during Ramadan.
“We remain committed to assisting UN-led efforts to advance a lasting and inclusive resolution to the conflict,” he said, urging participants to find a solution that would end the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
“On behalf of the United States, I express our sincere hope that everyone here today will seize this important opportunity to work together to identify concrete steps that will improve the lives of all Yemenis.
For the first time in years, the Riyadh talks brought together rival political, military and tribal figures from Yemen, including senior members of the General People’s Congress and leaders of the pro-independence Southern Transitional Council.
Speaking to Arab News at the conference, participants expressed hope that the large gathering of Yemenis would agree on the way forward.
“The situation in Yemen is dire. There is a serious shortage of fuel and the people are very poor. We hope that Yemenis will unite their voices in the talks and that the international community, mainly Saudi Arabia and the GCC, will help them implement the results,” said Abdullah bin Ali Jaber, a tribal leader from the province of Hadramout, in the southeast of the country.
The Houthis reportedly rejected the GCC’s invitation to join the talks and stepped up their military operations across Yemen, mainly in the central province of Marib.
Local officials and media reported that the Houthis had launched major attacks against government troops outside the town of Marib, apparently exploiting the space created by the cessation of coalition airstrikes.
Yahiya Abu Hatem, a military analyst, told Arab News: “The Houthis have rejected all calls for peace and faced them with escalation. This group is Iran’s tool to undermine security in the Arab world. He said Yemenis should resolve their differences and “point their guns at the Houthis”.