CAIRO (Reuters) - The Yemeni government suspended direct peace talks to end the country’s civil war on Sunday after the Houthi movement and its armed allies seized a military base north of the capital Sanaa, two members of the official delegation to the talks said.
The Houthi assault killed several of the soldiers defending the Umaliqa base. Unlike most of Yemen’s soldiers, those at Umaliqa had refused to take sides in the war between the Iran-allied Houthis and the Saudi-backed government.
The Houthis had tolerated this neutrality until they launched a surprise push into the facility in Amran province and seized its large cache of weapons at dawn, local officials said.
“We have suspended the sessions indefinitely to protest these military actions and continued violations of the truce,” one member of the government delegation to the Yemen peace talks in Kuwait told Reuters.
The delegate declined to be named, citing rules on media commentary at the U.N.-sponsored peace talks.
Abdel-Malek al-Mekhlafi, Yemen’s foreign minister and the government’s top delegate to the negotiations in Kuwait, said in the Houthi assault had “torpedoed” the talks.
“We will take the appropriate position in response to the Houthi crime at the Umaliqa base in Amran for the sake of our people and country,” he wrote on his official Twitter account, without elaborating.
Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam dismissed the delegation’s protest. In comments posted on his official Twitter account he accused the government of “wasting time” and “fabricating excuses” to continue the war.
Buttressed by a truce which had been largely holding since April 10, the talks in Kuwait had been inching ahead in recent days and the Houthis said Saudi Arabia had on Saturday released 40 Yemeni prisoners.
For its part, Yemen’s Houthi-run state news agency Saba accused the mostly Gulf Arab coalition and Yemeni government forces of violating the truce 4,000 times, saying shelling, bombing raids and warplane overflights had raised tensions.
The war has killed at least 6,200 people and unleashed a humanitarian crisis in the already impoverished country. Yemen’s army has split, and military bases and commanders have mostly taken either the Houthi or the government side.
Writing by Noah Browning and Katie Paul; Editing by Gareth Jones and Nerys Avery