DUBAI/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Yemen’s government dismissed as a “maneuver” on Thursday the Houthis’ acceptance of a U.N.-sponsored peace plan and demanded that the Iran-backed group hand back territory it has seized since last year.
A Western diplomat, however, said that the Houthis had expressed acceptance of U.N. Security Council demands for an end to violence and added that if the Yemeni government refused to talk with the rebels it would look like a stalling tactic.
The Houthis, who control much of Yemen along with the party of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, said on Wednesday they had officially informed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of their readiness to join talks to end more than six months of fighting in which more than 5,000 people have died.
Asked about the overture from the Houthi-Salah camp, however, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s press secretary, Mokhtar Alrahbi, said: “The government’s position is unchanged. There must be an announcement of willingness to implement all articles of the (U.N.) resolution without any changes.”
“We are ready to go to any talks after a clear acceptance of the implementation of the U.N. resolution,” Alrahbi said, adding that the Houthi and Saleh acceptance had come with conditions.
“We consider this (Houthi acceptance) a maneuver, especially after the painful strikes they received,” said Alrahbi, referring to the advances by the coalition east of the Yemeni capital Sanaa and the capture of the Bab al-Mandab strait in south-western Yemen.
But the Houthi letter to Ban, seen by Reuters, said the group fully accepted U.N. Security Council resolution 2216 from April. That resolution called on all sides, including the Houthis, to end the violence and avoid unilateral actions that jeopardize the country’s political transition.
The resolution also demanded that the Houthis withdraw from all areas seized during the conflict. A Western diplomat, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said it was time for Hadi to speak with the Houthis.
“If Hadi still refuses to talk, or asks for more now, it looks like stalling to the international community and the Security Council,” the diplomat said.
The Saudi-led coalition and President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi view the Houthis as proxies for non-Arab Iran and regard Saleh as a spoiler trying to undermine a political accord that allowed him to step down following months of protests in 2011.
The coalition has made progress on the battlefield in recent weeks, giving Hadi little incentive to deal with the Houthis.
In their letter to U.N. chief Ban last week, the Houthis accepted an April U.N. Security Council resolution calling for them to quit Yemeni cities.
They also urged Ban to convene talks on a seven-point peace plan proposed by the United Nations in talks in Oman last month.
Sources close to the Houthis have said that diplomats from the European Union helped to draft the Houthi letter to Ban to try to overcome any objections from Hadi to resuming the talks.
Hadi, in a letter of his own to Ban dated October 5 and obtained by Reuters, said his administration was ready “for a peaceful solution and to resume political consultations”.
But he said this willingness “hinged only on the side which carried out the coup (Houthis-Saleh) to commit to implement” the U.N. Security Council resolution, which he said provided the basis for any political dialogue.
The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed so far in the Yemeni conflict and has expressed alarm over a recent surge in civilian casualties.
At least 13 people were killed on Thursday in a rocket attack that hit a wedding party in a village in southwestern Yemen which residents said was most likely to have been carried out by jets of the Saudi-led coalition.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari and Louis Charbonneau; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Gareth Jones