US Secretary of State John Kerry has announced a new initiative to restart Yemen peace talks, offering Houthi rebels participation in the country’s unity government in exchange for a transfer of their heavy weapons to a third party.
Kerry said on Thursday that the “fair and sensible approach” to end the 18-month conflict was agreed in talks with Gulf Arab states and the United Nations in Saudi Arabia.
“The bloodshed … has gone on for too long,” he said, speaking at a press conference with his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir in the Saudi city of Jeddah. “It has to stop … There is no military solution.”
Kerry said that the restoration of stability to Yemen was vital in order to ease the suffering of the civilians and to prevent the armed groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group from taking further advantage of the power vacuum.
“It is essential for Yemen, for countries in the region and for the world community in general to agree on a plan to end the fighting and achieve a lasting peace,” he said.
Kerry said UN envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed would immediately begin series of consultations with Yemen’s warring sides to push for the renewed peace talks.
“The final agreement … would include in the first phase a swift formation of a new national unity government, the withdrawal of forces from [the capital] Sanaa and other areas and the transfer of all heavy weapons including ballistic missiles, from the Houthis and forces aligned to them to a third party,” Kerry said.
The conflict has killed at least 6,500 people, half of them civilians.
A Saudi-led Arab military coalition started air strikes against Houthis in support of the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in March 2015.
Yemen descended into chaos after the 2012 removal of long-time President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose forces are now fighting alongside Houthi rebels.
Security deteriorated further after the Houthis swept into Sanaa in September 2014 and pushed south, forcing Hadi’s government of to flee into exile.
The government returned to Yemen after coalition air strikes started, turning Aden city into a makeshift capital.