U.N. Yemen envoy says rebel group agrees to talks

Jamal Benomar, the U.N. envoy to Yemen, says the Shiite rebel group called the Houthis has agreed to talks with Sanaa

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Yemen’s president and Shiite rebels have called the Houthi Shiite tribal group and have agreed to discuss the prospect of the group’s disarming, the Associated Press reported the country’s United Nations envoy as saying.

Jamal Benomar, the U.N. envoy to Yemen, told reporters Thursday that the Houthis agreed to a new initiative by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to promote dialogue related to the rebels’ “disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.”

The Houthis led a six-year insurgency in the north that officially ended in 2010, but a recent escalation in fighting with ultra-conservative Sunni tribesmen turned several northern cities into war zones.

Meanwhile, Benomar also warned that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) “remains a very real and lethal threat” in Yemen.

AQAP remains active in southern and eastern Yemen, despite successive military operations against it.

Incidents involving al-Qaeda is continuing to threaten the country’s security.

Medics said on Thursday that al-Qaeda militants have seized hospitals in southern Yemen to treat wounded comrades following blistering air strikes that killed scores of gunmen in two days, Agence France-Presse reported.

An intensive aerial campaign by U.S. drones and Yemeni jet fighters on al-Qaeda bases in the rugged mountains of nearby Abyan province killed some 70 militants over the weekend.

On Sunday, militants stormed the hospital of Azzan, in Shabwa province, as well as two smaller medical centres in nearby districts, the sources said.

They counted experienced doctors among their number, who tended the wounded.

“They forced us out of the centers along with other members of staff and brought in their wounded,” a doctor at a medical center in the town of al-Saeed told AFP.

After the raids, militants arrived with casualties in pick-up trucks, accompanied by “several doctors, including Arabs and foreigners,” he said.

AQAP has been linked to a number of failed terror plots against the United States, and its leader Nasser al-Wuhayshi has appeared in a rare video in which he vowed to attack Western “crusaders... everywhere in the world.”

The United States has been hitting al-Qaeda positions in the southern Arabian nation heavily with drone strikes over the past two years, after the group was driven out of several southern cities it took over in 2011.

Benomar, who briefed the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, said the issue of drone strikes did come up in the closed-door meeting.

Yemen has struggled with transitioning to democracy since Arab Spring protests in 2011 forced out longtime ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh. Hadi’s government is promoting national reconciliation, but it remains fragile.

Benomar said Yemen’s political transition “has moved to the next stage” and that a draft constitution will be finalized in coming months.

(With the Associated Press and AFP)

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