Yemen's Houthis free detained minister to aid talks: U.N. envoy

United Nations (U.N.) special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed speaks to the media upon departure after a five-day visit to Yemen's capital Sanaa January 14, 2016. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

DUBAI (Reuters) - Yemen’s Houthi movement released a detained minister and four activists on Thursday, United Nations envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said, in a move aimed at bolstering peace talks to end over nine months of war.

“(Technical Education) Minister Abdul Razak Ashwal as well as four political and media activists have been released,” Ould Cheikh Ahmed said at a press conference in the capital Sanaa, which is controlled by the Houthis.

The U.N. envoy said he had also received assurances from the Houthis about the wellbeing of detained defense minister, General Mahmoud al-Subaihi, whose release and that of several other top officials remains key demand of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government.

A mostly Gulf Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia has been fighting the Iran-allied Houthis since March of last year. Nearly 6,000 people are known to have been killed, about half of them civilians, according to U.N. figures.

The Houthis and Yemen’s embattled government agreed last month on a broad framework for ending their war in U.N.-brokered peace talks, but a temporary truce was widely violated and has since ended.

Another round of negotiations set for Jan. 14 was delayed and has yet to be rescheduled, Ould Cheikh Ahmed said, as disputes over the venue and confidence-building measures persist.

The Houthis say the Saudi-led coalition and government forces used the last negotiations as a cover to make more military gains, and want a renewed ceasefire before new talks.

In a separate incident, an two policemen were killed and two were wounded when masked gunmen fired a rocket-propelled grenade at their patrol car in Yemen’s southern port city of Aden on Thursday, eyewitnesses said.

It was the latest in a series of assassination and bombings by militants which have undermined security in Aden, the temporary capital of the embattled Yemeni central government.

Reporting By Gulf bureau; Writing by Noah Browning; Editing by Tom Heneghan