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article imageYemen rebels grounded in Sanaa as peace talks on hold

By AFP     Sep 7, 2018 in World

Yemen's Huthi rebels, expected at UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva with the government, remained grounded in Sanaa Friday citing fears they would not be allowed to return home if they left.

The Huthis, powerful armed tribes locked in a war with Yemen's Saudi-backed government, have refused to take off from the rebel-held capital unless the UN meets a list of conditions, which includes securing a safe return from Geneva to Sanaa for their delegation.

The Geneva talks, the first since 2016, had been scheduled to formally open Thursday but were put on hold, although UN envoy Martin Griffiths has held several meetings in the Swiss city with the government delegation.

The Huthis' Supreme Revolutionary Council said Friday they were "increasingly suspicious that the coalition intended to insult" the rebels.

It accused the Saudi-led alliance fighting against them on behalf of the government of planning to strand the rebel delegation in Djibouti, where their plane was to make a stop en route to Geneva.

The Huthis hinted they feared a repeat of 2016, when 108 days of talks in Kuwait broke down and a rebel delegation was stranded in Oman for three months due to an air blockade, the council said in a statement on Telegram.

The Saudi-led military coalition controls the country's airspace and Sanaa international airport has been largely disused for years.

The Iran-backed Huthis have traded accusations of non-cooperation and stalling with Yemen's government.

- 'Excuses' -

The Huthis also demand the evacuation of their wounded fighters from Sanaa to Oman.

But in Geneva Friday, Yemen's foreign minister Khaled Yamani insisted the Huthi delay was evidence of infighting.

"We came to Geneva .. ready and willing to delve into talks" on confidence-building, Yamani told UAE's Sky News.

He slammed the Huthi "excuses" for not arriving on time as "an attempt to cover up something critical, and that is that the insurgents are arguing about who among them will represent them in Geneva."

Saudi Arabia and its allies have meanwhile said they have already granted the Huthis clearance to fly, accusing the rebels of intransigence.

Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher accused the rebels of "speaking no language other than force" and "using negotiations to secure more arms", in a tweet on Thursday.

Griffiths' office said Friday he was "still working on getting the Ansarullah (rebel) delegation to Geneva."

In the meantime, the envoy has been holding consultations with the government delegation since Thursday.

"He has been discussing with them confidence-building measures, including the issue of prisoners, humanitarian access, the re-opening of Sanaa airport, in addition to economic issues," it said in a statement.

Nearly 10,000 people have been killed since Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in the Yemen conflict in 2015, triggering what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

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