Yemen combat to halt April 10, a week before peace talks: U.N.

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The warring parties in Yemen have agreed to a cessation of hostilities starting at midnight on April 10 and peace talks in Kuwait beginning a week later, United Nations special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said on Wednesday.

A view of buildings destroyed during recent fighting in Yemen's southwestern city of Taiz March 14, 2016. REUTERS/Anees Mahyoub

There have already been several failed attempts to defuse the conflict in Yemen, which has drawn in regional foes Saudi Arabia and Iran, and triggered a humanitarian crisis in the Arab world’s poorest country.

“This is really our last chance,” Ould Cheikh Ahmed told reporters in New York. “The war in Yemen must be brought to an end.”

A Saudi-led coalition began a military campaign in Yemen a year ago with the aim of preventing Iran-allied Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Yemen’s ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh from taking control of the country.

The U.N. Security Council welcomed the announcement and urged parties to the conflict to “immediately reduce violence and refrain from any action that could lead to increased tensions, in order to pave the way for a cessation of hostilities.”

Ould Cheikh Ahmed said Saudi Arabia is “fully committed to make sure that the next talks take place and particularly supports us with regard to the cessation of hostilities.”

The U.N. says more than 6,000 people, half of them civilians, have been killed since the start of the Saudi-led military intervention whose ultimate aim is to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power.

U.S.-based rights group Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday that the United States, Britain, France and others should suspend all weapons sales to Saudi Arabia over what the group deemed unlawful air strikes.

The Saudi-led coalition has targeted civilians with air strikes and some of the attacks could be crimes against humanity, U.N. sanctions monitors told the Security Council in January.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an affiliate of the global Sunni Muslim militant organization, has also expanded its foothold in the country as the government focuses on its battle with the Houthi rebels.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed said prominent Yemeni figures would be enlisted to cooperate with a de-escalation and coordination committee on the cessation of hostilities and “to report on progress and security incidents.”

He said the peace talks would focus on five areas: a withdrawal of militia and armed groups; a handover of heavy weaponry to the state; interim security arrangements; restoration of state institutions; and resumption of inclusive political dialogue.

Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by James Dalgleish and Tom Brown