March 22, 2016 / 3:39 PM / 4 years ago

Yemen peace talks expected in Kuwait next month -government official

CAIRO (Reuters) - Talks aimed at ending Yemen’s war are expected in Kuwait next month along with a temporary ceasefire, a senior Yemeni government official said, raising the prospect of an end to violence that has killed thousands.

A view of buildings destroyed during recent fighting in Yemen's southwestern city of Taiz March 14, 2016. REUTERS/Anees Mahyoub

There have already been several failed attempts to defuse the conflict in Yemen, which has drawn in regional foes Saudi Arabia and Iran and triggered a humanitarian crisis in the Arab world’s poorest country.

On Tuesday Saudi-led airstrikes targeting al Qaeda-linked militants in eastern Yemen killed and wounded dozens of people, a provincial governor and medics said.

“The talks will be on April 17 in Kuwait, accompanied by a temporary ceasefire,” the Yemeni official said, declining to be named. There were two inconclusive rounds of peace talks in Switzerland last year.

A Saudi-led coalition began a military campaign in Yemen a year ago with the aim of preventing Iran-allied Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Yemen’s ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh from taking control of the country.

There was no immediate response from the Houthi militia regarding the prospect of talks. A prisoner swap and pause in combat on the border with Saudi Arabia earlier this month had raised hopes of a push to end the war.

Tuesday’s Saudi-led airstrikes hit an area west of Mukalla, a port city and capital of the Hadramout province. Residents said at least 30 militants were killed and many more wounded. A spokesman for the Saudi-led alliance was not immediately available for comment.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an affiliate of the global Sunni Muslim militant organization, has expanded its foothold in the country as the government focuses on its battle with the Houthi rebels.

The United Nations says more than 6,000 people have been killed since the start of the Saudi-led military intervention whose ultimate aim is to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi following his ousting by Houthi and pro-Saleh forces.

“It has been a terrible year with air strikes, shelling and localized violence. An already very impoverished country has been put at a very sharp end,” Jamie McGoldrick, U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, told reporters in Geneva.

One in ten Yemenis is displaced, he said, adding that half of those killed and injured were civilians.

He said U.N. special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed had been in the capital Sanaa over the past few days for discussions with parties involved and also was in Riyadh.

“What they are hoping for is to put in place a ceasefire of some kind or a cessation of hostilities for a week or so prior to the talks and build confidence,” he said.

The spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir have said that any peace talks can take place only between Hadi and the Houthis, and through the U.N. special envoy.

Additional reporting by Mohamed Mukashaf in Aden and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Richard Balmforth

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