UN Chief Urges Immediate Ramadan Truce in Yemen

UN Chief Urges Immediate Ramadan Truce in YemenUN Chief Urges Immediate Ramadan Truce in Yemen

The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday called for an immediate two-week humanitarian pause in Yemen to mark Ramadan, as talks got underway in Geneva between warring factions to try and resolve the bloody conflict.

"I hope this week starts the beginning of the end of the fighting," Ban said, stressing that the holy Muslim month should be a period for "harmony, peace and reconciliation.

"I have emphasized the importance of another humanitarian pause for two weeks. Today, Yemen's very existence hangs in the balance. While the parties bicker, Yemen burns."

Ban dismissed fears that the talks would be torpedoed by the non-arrival of Houthi forces in time for the talks. The team's plane was delayed in Djibouti, according to UN and diplomatic sources, AFP reported.

"I am pleased to know that the other parties are on their way," The UN chief said, although had to leave for New York without seeing the Houthi delegation after delays on their journey to Geneva.

The 23-member Houthi-led delegation, which was understood to also include representatives of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, initially refused to board the aircraft that was supposed to bring them to Geneva.

They eventually left Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, on Sunday, but their flight was delayed in Djibouti due to what Ban said were logistical problems. An official with the Houthi delegation said on Monday the group was stuck in Djibouti because Egyptian authorities would not allow it to land at Cairo airport.

Separate Rooms

Representatives from opposing Yemeni factions reportedly refused get together and consultations were conducted in separate rooms with moderators.

“Simply speaking, there are two rooms and a special envoy will move between them,” according to a source in UN Geneva headquarters who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Geneva talks are expected to last two to three days, with the UN special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, shuttling between the delegations.

The current talks in Geneva include representatives of 18 Yemeni political organizations, including supporters of Yemen's fugitive president Abd-Rabbuh Mansour Hadi and the Houthis.

Underscoring the need for immediate action in Yemen, Ban said, "The ticking clock is not a time piece, it is a time bomb." He called on all parties to reach agreement on a "comprehensive and lasting" ceasefire.

The conflict has had repercussions beyond Yemen, as there are concerns the chaos is giving al-Qaeda's branch in the country room to flourish.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, considered by many security officials to represent the most immediate, direct terror threat to the US, is now showing a stronger presence in the region.

Ban also called for the withdrawal of armed forces from the cities, saying the fighting was bolstering extremists. "The region simply cannot sustain another open wound like Syria and Libya."

Saudi Onslaught Ongoing

The peace-seeking negotiations went underway as warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition bombarded Sanaa overnight.

Witnesses said on Monday the airstrikes caused big explosions before dawn and hit locations south and west of Sanaa as part of the coalition's 12-week campaign.

The Saudi-led coalition began its airstrikes on March 26 in support of Hadi, who fled to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, after Houthis took control of Aden.

Abdullah Kakalla showed CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward his family home, which was destroyed by Saudi warplanes just days earlier.

"They destroy our people for no reason," said Kakalla. "Is this a military site?"

Another Sanaa resident who did not want to be named said most Yemenis just want the war to be over. "We are peaceful people and we didn't fight any country before and we don't know why they are fighting us."

The World Health Organization said on Friday that 2,584 people had been killed in fighting in Yemen up to June 7. A further 11,065 had been wounded.