October 17, 2015 / 11:40 PM / in 2 years

Yemen mulls U.N. invitation to attend peace talks

DUBAI (Reuters) - Yemen’s Saudi-backed government said on Saturday it was studying an invitation from the United Nations to attend talks aimed at ending a war between a Saudi-led coalition and Houthi militiamen who control much of the country including the capital.

Smoke billows from a military arms depot after it was hit by a Saudi-led air strike on the Nuqom Mountain overlooking Yemen's capital Sanaa, October 15, 2015. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

“The Yemeni government confirms that we’re always ready for and committed to peace,” spokesman Rajeh Badi told Reuters from the Saudi capital Riyadh.

“We value the role of the United Nations and thank its special envoy to Yemen, who has exerted great efforts toward achieving a peaceful resolution,” he said, adding that his government would respond to the call within 48 hours.

There was no immediate response to the call from the Houthis, a predominantly Shi‘ite group allied to Iran and backed by forces loyal to veteran former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose departure Saudi Arabia helped to broker.

The United Nations could not immediately be reached for comment but its deputy secretary general, Jan Eliasson, said on Thursday he hoped negotiations to end the war could start by the end of October, despite “deep mistrust” between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

At least 5,400 people have been killed in the fighting in the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula, and the United Nations says the humanitarian situation, exacerbated by a Saudi blockade of Yemen’s ports, is “critical”.

Previous U.N.-sponsored peace talks faltered in June after President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government demanded that the Houthis pull out of cities captured since last September as a precondition for a ceasefire.

Saudi Arabia has been leading an Arab military intervention since March to try to restore Hadi’s government, now based in Aden, and fend off what it sees as creeping Iranian influence.

Reporting by Noah Browning; Writing by Tom Finn; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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