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UN Chief Hails Start of Yemen Peace Talks, Cease-fire


Shi'ite fighters, known as Houthis, stand at attention as they parade during a tribal gathering showing support for the Houthi movement in Sana'a, Yemen, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015.

United Nations-sponsored peace talks aimed at finding a settlement to the conflict in Yemen opened Tuesday in Geneva, as a week-long cease-fire in the war-torn country went into effect.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the start of the negotiations, saying they are the only way to end a months-long civil war. He urged all parties to work toward a permanent end to the conflict.

Yemeni Prime Minister Khaled Bahah expressed hope for his country as the cease-fire took effect. He said Yemen is "taking shape" through the talks in Geneva, noting the situation there is more hopeful than in other volatile Middle Eastern countries such as Syria and Libya.

But on Tuesday, Shi'ite Houthi rebels "violated the truce" by attacking pro-government forces in eastern Marib province, killing 15 people and wounding 20 more, a loyalist military source told the French news agency.

It was not clear if the Iranian-backed Houthis would abide by the halt in fighting.

The conflict between forces supporting President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi's government and the Houthi rebels has killed an estimated 5,700 people since late last year.

FILE - Yemenis inspect the scene of a car bomb attack that killed a Yemeni senior official in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015.
FILE - Yemenis inspect the scene of a car bomb attack that killed a Yemeni senior official in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015.

'Peaceful and orderly political transition' sought

U.N. envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said the goal of the Geneva peace talks is to "pave the way for a return to a peaceful and orderly political transition."

Before the cease-fire went into effect at midday local time, the violence continued with both clashes on the ground and airstrikes by warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition that has been backing President Hadi since March.

Pro-government forces used the air support to seize Zuqar Island in the Red Sea hours before the truce began.

Saudi coalition commanders released a statement Monday endorsing the temporary halt, "while retaining the right to respond to any breach of the cease-fire."

The conflict erupted in September 2014, when Houthis seized the capital, Sana'a, before pushing southward and forcing Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia as they took control of the port city of Aden.

The Saudi government responded with coalition airstrikes that have since pushed rebels out of Aden and allowed Hadi to return to that city. Rebels still control Sana'a.

Last month, top regional U.N. official Johannes van der Klaauw said more than 21 million of the country's 27 million residents are in need of humanitarian assistance to meet basic needs, adding that some three million children and pregnant women are in need of preventative services to stave off malnutrition.