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Yemen peace talks delayed by fighting despite announced truce

KUWAIT (Reuters) - Talks to end a civil war and Saudi-led intervention in Yemen will not begin on Monday as planned, the warring sides said as fighting persisted despite an announced ceasefire.

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Delegations representing Yemen’s Houthi group and the party of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh - Saudi Arabia’s main antagonists - have yet to head to Kuwait for the peace talks, citing heavy combat and Saudi-led air operations.

“There’s no point in going to Kuwait if there’s no respect for the ceasefire,” a senior official in Saleh’s General People’s Congress party told Reuters on Monday.

Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam said it has been the movement’s demand from the start that dialogue took place “in an atmosphere of peace and stability.” Unfortunately, “aggression” had not stopped and air strikes were continuing in different areas, he said.

The U.N.-brokered truce went into effect on April 11.

Saudi Arabia and some Gulf Arab allies joined the war in March last year to back Yemen’s government after it was pushed into exile by forces loyal to Saleh and the Houthi movement, also called Ansarallah.

Previous United Nations-mediated talks in June and December failed to end the Arabian Peninsula war, which has killed about 6,200 people, about half of them civilians.

Fighting and air strikes persist on several battlefronts throughout the country, especially in the contested southwestern city of Taiz and the Nehm area east of the capital Sanaa.

The U.N. envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, urged the two parties remaining in Sanaa to commit to the talks and travel to Kuwait.

“The next few hours are crucial ... I hope that Ansarallah and the General People’s Congress do not miss this opportunity that could save Yemen the loss of more lives and put an end to the circle of violence that has engulfed the country.”

Two Yemeni officials from the country’s Saudi-backed government said the opposing delegations would likely arrive on Tuesday.

“Representatives from Saleh’s party and the Houthis are looking for excuses to delay their arrival at a precise time, but it’s expected that they will arrive later in Kuwait on Tuesday,” one of the officials said.

Peace talks face an array of obstacles, from the proliferation of warlords to the deepening of a security vacuum that has allowed al Qaeda fighters to seize territory and opened a path for Islamic State militants to launch attacks.

Unrepresented in the Kuwait talks, Yemen’s once-independent south is rife with secessionist fervour, and tens of thousands of protesters rallied for independence in the port city of Aden for a second day on Monday.

Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari and Hashem Mostafa, Writing by Noah Browning and Hadeel Al Sayegh; Editing by Richard Balmforth