Monday, April 11, 2016

U.N. Envoy Welcomes Yemen Truce, Says Difficult Compromises Needed

The United Nations special envoy for Yemen welcomed the start of a tentative truce in the country's year-old conflict on Monday and said peace talks due to start later this month would require difficult compromises for all sides.

"Now is the time to step back from the brink," Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said in a statement following the start of the U.N.-backed cessation of hostilities at 2100 GMT on Sunday.

He said the truce terms included commitments for unhindered access for relief aid to all of Yemen, where the United Nations says hundreds of thousands of children face life-threatening malnutrition and millions lack health care or clean water.

"The progress made represents a real opportunity to rebuild a country that has suffered far too much violence for far too long. A positive outcome will require difficult compromises from all sides, courage and determination to reach an agreement.”

The conflict between the Yemeni government, backed by a Saudi-led Arab coalition, and its Houthi rebel foes has killed more than 6,200 people and triggered a humanitarian crisis in one of the Arab world's poorest countries.

The halt in fighting precedes peace talks set to begin on April 18 in Kuwait under U.N. auspices.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed said a "de-escalation and coordination committee" of military representatives from both sides would work to make the truce hold.

He added that the Kuwait talks would focus on five main areas: withdrawal of militias and armed groups, the handover of heavy weapons to the state, interim security arrangements, the restoration of state institutions and the resumption of inclusive political dialogue, and creation of a special committee for prisoners and detainees.

The coalition said in a statement the truce would expire at 12 p.m. local of the day following the conclusion of consultations in Kuwait, unless the agreement was extended.The coalition began a military campaign a year ago with the aim of preventing Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Yemen's ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh from taking control of the country.

The conflict has caused a humanitarian disaster, aid groups say. Nearly half of Yemen's 22 provinces are on the verge of famine, the U.N. World Food Programme said in March.

The UN Children's Fund said late last month that basic services and infrastructure were "on the verge of total collapse," noting attacks on schools, hospitals and the water and sanitation system. It said all sides had used child soldiers.

(Reporting by Lou Charbonneau and William Maclean; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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