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Talks to End War in Yemen Are Suspended

CAIRO — More than three months of peace talks to end the war in Yemen came to a halt Saturday, leaving in doubt the future of a shaky cease-fire and threatening to deepen what has a become one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

The United Nations’ special envoy on Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, announced the suspension on Saturday in Kuwait, where the talks were being held. He said that the negotiations were not a failure and that they would resume in a month at an undisclosed location.

A Western diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity as a matter of official policy, told reporters on Friday that he was disappointed by the end of the talks and expressed concerns about Yemen’s stability.

Mr. Ahmed convened the talks after a cease-fire was declared in April between the military coalition, which is led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States, and the Houthi rebels, who the Saudis say are supported by Iran. He said the talks were being suspended in an effort to find a lasting solution.

“We seek a sustainable solution to the conflict,” Mr. Ahmed said. “We do not want a fragile solution.”

More than 6,500 people have been killed in the 15-month-long war, and Unicef said this past week that 370,000 children were at risk of starving to death. More than half of Yemenis do not have enough food, aid workers say. While the cease-fire has been marred by regular violations on both sides, it has partly tamped down the fighting in recent months.

“The situation for Yemenis keeps deteriorating, and it is now untenable,” the Norwegian Refugee Council’s country director in Yemen, Syma Jamil, said. “Yemenis won’t be able to cope for much longer.”

Ms. Jamil expressed concern that the end of the talks would lead to a large-scale resumption of bombing and ground fighting, putting Yemeni civilians even more at risk. In the past week, she said, 40 airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition had been reported in Houthi strongholds in northern Yemen, and fighting had intensified in the city of Taiz.

“It was a fragile peace process to begin with,” Ms. Jamil said. “World leaders must call on all parties to restrain from escalation.”

Underlining the lack of confidence in the peace process, the Houthis and a former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, a Houthi ally, on Saturday announced the formation of a supreme political council to govern the country. That arrangement excluded the government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was forced into exile when Houthi forces captured the capital, Sana, last year. But Mr. Hadi, whose government is backed by the United Nations, later returned to the southern city of Aden after Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened militarily.

Mr. Ahmed is the second United Nations envoy to try to broker peace talks between the Houthis and other factions in Yemen since full-scale war erupted in March 2015. His predecessor quit after similar peace talk efforts failed.

The Western diplomat said the talks, at certain points, were close to delivering an agreement that would pave the way for a withdrawal of militias from Yemeni cities and eventually a political settlement.

The diplomat said the Houthi rebels insisted on a comprehensive agreement that would address political and security arrangements, rather than a sequence of steps intended to move toward a final resolution. In past negotiations, the Yemeni government of Mr. Hadi was criticized for clinging to what seemed to be unreasonably inflexible positions.

Mr. Ahmed has also said Houthi intransigence blocked progress in the talks, leading the Houthis to accuse him of working on behalf of the Saudi-led coalition. The United Nations Security Council has refused to recognize Mr. Hadi’s ouster.

After the breakdown of the talks, one of the Houthi negotiators, Nasser Bagazgooz, blamed the United Nations envoy for seeking what he said amounted to a military solution on behalf of the Saudi-led coalition.

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(via NY Times)