Yemen's exiled government welcomes U.S. plan for restart of peace talks

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Yemen’s Saudi-backed exiled government said on Saturday it welcomed a plan agreed by the United States, Gulf Arab states and the United Nations to restart peace talks with a goal of forming a unity government.

An armed man loyal to the Houthi movement holds his weapon as he gathers to protest against the Saudi-backed exiled government deciding to cut off the Yemeni central bank from the outside world, in the capital Sanaa, Yemen August 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

U.N.-sponsored negotiations to end 18 months of fighting in the impoverished country on Saudi Arabia’s southern border collapsed this month and the dominant Iran-allied Houthi movement there resumed shelling attacks into the kingdom.

In talks in Jeddah this week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the conflict in which Saudi Arabia has launched thousands of air strikes in favor of the exiled government had gone on too long and needed to end.

On Saturday, a statement from the exiled government carried by the Saba news agency said: “The government is prepared to deal positively with any peaceful solutions...including an initial welcoming of the ideas resulting from the meeting in Jeddah that included the foreign secretaries of the U.S.,the United Kingdom and Gulf states.”

The Houthis are yet to respond to the proposal.

Kerry said on Thursday the Houthis must cease shelling across the border with Saudi Arabia, pull back from the capital Sanaa, cede their weapons and enter into a unity government with their domestic foes.

Yemen’s internationally recognized government, based in Saudi Arabia, has made similar demands but insisted that the Houthis fulfill all those measures before any new government was formed. However Kerry suggested they could move ahead in parallel.

The Yemen war has killed more than 6,500 people and displaced some 3 million.

Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally, has come under stiff criticism from rights groups for air strikes that have repeatedly killed civilians in Yemen.

The United Nations human rights office said in report on Thursday that the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for 60 percent of the 3,799 civilians killed in the war.

Reporting By Maha El Dahan; Editing by Ros Russell