March 16, 2015 / 9:45 AM / 4 years ago

Houthis lift house arrest on Yemen cabinet, PM heads to Saudi

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen’s dominant Houthi militia group on Monday released former Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and his cabinet ministers after nearly two months under house arrest, government spokesman Rajeh Badi said.

Yemen's Prime Minister Khaled Bahah holds his glasses during a parliament session in Sanaa December 8, 2014. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

State news agency Saba reported that Bahah, whose government resigned in January after the Houthis captured Yemen’s presidential palace, had left Sanaa. A source close to Bahah said he was on his way to Saudi Arabia and from there he would go on to New York where his family lives.

In a statement on his Facebook page, Bahah said the lifting of the house arrest was a goodwill gesture to ease talks on Yemen’s political transition. But he said he had no intention of resuming his post.

“This comes as an expression of sincere good intentions...(the government) confirms it does not desire to return to its duties in light of the exceptional circumstances,” he wrote.

The Houthis invaded the capital Sanaa and fanned out across much of central Yemen in September in what they hailed as a revolution against misrule and corruption.

A power struggle with President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi began when the militants laid siege to his residence and forced him, Bahah and the cabinet into house arrest in January.

Hadi has since escaped to the southern port city of Aden and reclaimed the presidency, setting up a rival administration there backed by Gulf neighbors, who have rejected the Houthi takeover as a coup. Defence Minister General Mahmoud al-Subaihi has also fled Sanaa to Aden.

United Nations-brokered talks have struggled to heal Yemen’s political rifts and head off the prospect of civil war, which the cabinet’s freedom may now ease.

“This opens the way for political factions to carry out their national responsibility to come up with an agreement which works to restore a transition,” Bahah said.

Houthi leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi said on Sunday the group was engaged in indirect talks with neighbor Saudi Arabia, in the first known dialogue between the Shi’ite Muslim group and the Sunni regional powerhouse since the Houthis’ takeover last year. Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s main benefactor, suspended aid soon after the takeover.

Reporting By Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Noah Browning and Maha El Dahan, editing by Sami Aboudi and Dominic Evans

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