United Nations officials have warned that the conflict in the Arab world's poorest nation is intensifying daily, with armed groups expanding, thousands facing the cholera epidemic, and seven million "on the cusp of famine". Speaking before the UN Security Council on Wednesday, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, UN special envoy to Yemen, called on all parties "to act for the sake of peace," saying "excuses are unacceptable...especially when the solutions are in plain sight." "The opportunity to reach peace is not yet lost," he said, urging the political leaders to recognise that "the continuation of the war can only lead to more human and physical loss". In the same meeting, UN humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien said the warring parties and their outside backers should feel "deeply guilty" at driving a worsening conflict that has exposed millions of Yemeni civilians "to unfathomable pain and suffering", including seven million people now "on the cusp of famine." He urged the Security Council to "lean much more heavily and effectively on the parties, and those outside Yemen who are leading this policy and action."
Thousands of Yemenis protested against a new peace proposal to end the conflict submitted by the UN envoy to the war-torn country, saying the plan would legitimise the rebels' power grab. The demonstrations in the southern city of Aden and other locations took place on Thursday shortly before UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed arrived in the capital Sanaa for peace talks with Houthi rebels. "We reject the plan of Ould Cheikh," read one of the banners carried by protesters in Aden - the government's temporary base - who responded to a call by authorities in the city to rally. "No to an initiative that legitimises the coup," said another. President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi on Saturday rejected the envoy's peace plan, saying it would reward the Houthis for seizing the capital and "opens a door towards more suffering and war".
He also blamed the Houthis. "The people of Yemen are being subjected to deprivation, disease and death as the world watches," he said. Mr. O'Brien also implored the Saudis to avoid an attack on Hodeidah, the only port in Yemen that can still handle shiploads of food and medicine. Virtually all of the basic needs in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, must be imported. Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies have vowed to crush the Houthis, seeing them as proxies for Iran's influence in the region.
The UN envoy for Yemen has hailed a "constructive" first full day of peace talks but called for a halt to air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition and missile fire by Houthi rebels. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said firming up an April 11 ceasefire was essential to the success of the negotiations in Kuwait. The envoy, who spent months getting the warring sides to the negotiating table, said Friday's talks had been "very constructive". "There was a consensus on strengthening the ceasefire and the two sides were committed to the need to achieve peace and that this is the last opportunity," he said. The United Nations hopes that the negotiations will end fighting across Yemen that has killed more than 6,800 people and driven more than 2.5 million from their homes since March last year.
Yemen's Shiite rebels backed out of U.N.-brokered peace talks just hours before the negotiations were to start Monday in Kuwait, demanding an immediate halt to airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition that has waged a year-long war against them, officials said. It was not immediately clear if the negotiations were completely scuttled. According to two media officials linked to the Shiite rebels known as Houthis, rebel representatives have delayed their trip to Kuwait. The rebel delegation would not go unless there is a "full halt to the airstrikes" by the Saudi-led coalition, the two officials told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters. A statement issued Monday afternoon on behalf of the U.N. envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, described the Kuwait talks as "delayed" and gave no details on when they might resume.