UN-sponsored talks aimed at ending the conflict in Yemen by bringing representatives of rival factions to Geneva are expected to begin on Monday, the world body says.
Announcing the start of “preliminary inclusive consultations” in the Swiss city on Monday, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the UN’s peace envoy for Yemen, said in a statement the talks would bring together representatives of the exiled government, the Houthis, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General Peoples’ Congress and other opposition groups.
“The United Nations takes this opportunity to appeal to Yemen’s political actors to participate in these consultations in good faith and without preconditions, and in a climate of trust and mutual respect,” the statement said.
The internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi said its delegation flew to Geneva on Saturday, but representatives of the Iran-allied Houthis and Saleh refused to board a UN plane from Sanaa to the Swiss city.
A Houthi official said the group’s refusal was because the flight was due to make a stop in Saudi Arabia, which is leading the Arab coalition’s air campaign.
The peace talks have sparked hope among Yemeni civilians for an early resolution to the conflict.
“We hope that something positive will come out of these meetings between the various Yemeni parties because we want the war to be over,” Saber Nouman, a Yemeni national, told Al Jazeera.
“We want stability and we hope that the siege will be lifted soon because we are suffering. As you can see, there is a shortage when it comes to everything – fuel, bread, water, medical supplies. We are suffering every day because of the siege and because of this aggressive war.”
Ahmad Fawzi, UN spokesperson, said representatives of the two sides were expected to be in Geneva later on Sunday.
The delegations would “start with what we call proximity talks in two separate rooms with the hope they can be brought together”, Fawzi said, adding that there would be “extremely intensive consultations day and night”.
Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, is due to take part in the opening session of the talks on Monday before returning to New York.
“We still hope that the parties will observe a humanitarian pause,” Fawzi said.
The UN Security Council and Ban have both called for a renewed humanitarian halt in the fighting following May’s truce.
The talks are aimed at securing a ceasefire, agreeing on a withdrawal plan for the Houthis and stepping up deliveries of humanitarian aid.
The Security Council this week heard a report from Stephen O’Brien, the new UN aid chief, who described Yemen’s humanitarian crisis as “catastrophic”, with 20 million civilians – 80 percent of the population – in need of aid.
‘Waste of time’
Despite Sunday’s developments, many Yemenis remain sceptical about the Geneva summit leading to any real change on the ground.
Amer Tarah, a Yemeni lawyer and human rights activist, told Al Jazeera he believed the talks were a “waste of time” and blamed the UN for failing to help provide peace to the country in previous resolutions.
“Let’s face it: Since their first day in politics, the Houthis never committed themselves to any political resolution. They had no respect for what the Yemeni state represents and they always tried to force their reality on the ground,” Tarah said.
Even if a resolution is reached at the talks, there is a substantial chance that it will be violated again, he said.
“How will the outcome be implemented when we know that the Houthi group will always play around the agreement just like they did in the past?
“The UN must go ahead and force them to implement all the previous resolutions before bringing the Yemenis to a new round of dialogue.”