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UN to Launch Yemen ‘Consultations’ in Geneva

FILE - Smoke billows following an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition targeting an arms depot in the Mount Noqum area on the eastern outskirts of Sana'a, Yemen, May 11, 2015.

The United Nations announced Wednesday that it will convene parties to the Yemen conflict in Geneva next week for meetings with the aim of re-launching that country’s political dialogue.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will attend the opening of the meeting on May 28. Diplomats said they expect the talks would run about three days.

In a statement announcing the consultations, Ban said the goal is to bring together a broad range of Yemeni governmental and other actors in good faith and without pre-conditions.

U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq stressed that Geneva is not an international conference, but a consultative process aimed at bringing the Yemenis together with U.N. facilitation.

“Although we appreciate the support of the regional and international actors, we expect the actual dialogue to take place, at least initially, between Yemenis and the U.N.," said Haq.

Yemen’s U.N. Ambassador Khaled Alyemany told reporters that the government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi would be sending a delegation to Geneva. Of its opponents, the Houthis, he said more pressure needs to be exerted on them to come to the negotiating table.

“It seems that they are ready, reaching this moment of wanting to talk, but they don’t want to give up what they consider [are] their expansions on the ground," said Alyemany.

Since September, the Houthis have seized several cities, including in Yemen’s south and its capital, Sana’a.

Neighboring Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of supporting the rebels and providing them with weapons, a charge Tehran denies. In March, the Saudis began a campaign of aerial bombing to weaken the group, but that has so far failed to stop the rebels.

Saudi U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Al-Muallimi accused the Houthis of violating the five-day humanitarian pause in fighting that ended late Sunday. He said that in addition to breaches in Yemen, the rebels had repeatedly fired rockets and shells into Saudi cities along the Yemeni border, including Jizan and Najran, causing civilian casualties. He said another halt in the air strikes would be unlikely for now.

“In light of these continuous provocations and violations, there could not possibly be the consideration of a humanitarian pause that would only serve to allow the Houthis to expand their presence and influence," said Al-Muallimi.

The U.N. and its partners have had difficulty getting food, fuel and other necessities to the population of 25 million, saying that the humanitarian pause that ended Sunday was not long enough to reach all in need.

More than half-a-million Yemenis have been displaced by the fighting and over 1,850 people killed. The country, one of the region’s poorest, has fallen deeper into a humanitarian crisis.

The U.N. Security Council has demanded the Houthis cease their land grab and withdraw their forces from government institutions. Last month, the council imposed an arms embargo on the rebels and sanctioned one of their leaders.