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Yemen peace talks to start on Thursday after rebels join: UN

Yemeni peace talks back on as Houthis agree to attend after protesting alleged Saudi ceasefire violations
A Yemeni fighter loyal to exiled President Abd Rabbuh Hadi looks out onto Marib province (AFP)

Yemen peace talks are to start on Thursday in Kuwait, the United Nations said, after rebels agreed to join the delayed negotiations following assurances pro-government forces would respect a ceasefire.

"The Yemeni peace negotiations will start tomorrow in Kuwait under the auspices of the United Nations," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said from New York.

A delegation of rebels left Sanaa, Yemen's capital, on Wednesday to join the talks saying the United Nations had assured them over the ceasefire.

Representatives of the Houthi rebels and their allies boarded an Omani plane bound for Kuwait via Muscat, said a Sanaa airport official.

The UN-brokered talks had been set to open in Kuwait on Monday but were put off after the Iran-backed insurgents failed to show up over alleged Saudi violations of the ceasefire, which took effect on 11 April.

The Yemeni government delegation which arrived in Kuwait at the weekend, had threatened to pull out if the talks did not start Thursday morning.

The delegation, in a statement, also accused the Houthi rebels of violating the ceasefire in many areas.

The talks are the most important attempt yet to resolve Yemen's devastating conflict, which the United Nations says has killed more than 6,400 people and forced almost 2.8 million from their homes.

A Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes in Yemen 13 months ago after the rebels, who had seized control of Sanaa in 2014, advanced in other parts of the country.

President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's government fled to the main southern city Aden but its members still spend most of their time in Riyadh.

The loyalists have managed since July to reclaim large parts of the south, including temporary capital Aden, but have been unable to dislodge the Houthi rebels and their allies from Sanaa and other key areas.

On Tuesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had urged Hadi's government and the rebels to work with his envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed "so that talks can start without further delay".

The rebels' al-Masirah television quoted Houthi representative Saleh al-Sammad as saying they agreed to join the talks after receiving assurances from the UN envoy and ambassadors that loyalists would respect the ceasefire.

A Western diplomat in Kuwait said representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council sent a message to the rebels saying they "understand their fears" and urging them to "quickly join" the talks.

The rebels had been assured the agenda for the talks would be "clear and tackle issues that could help achieve peaceful solutions," said Mahdi al-Mashat, a representative of rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi.

Ceasefire monitors deploy

Writing on Facebook, Mashat warned however that "we will have the right to suspend our participation" if the assurances are not met.

A representative of the rebel-allied General People's Congress party, Yasser Alawadi, had said on Twitter that his delegation would travel to Kuwait on Thursday.

The GPC is led by former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled the country for 33 years until 2012 and has joined forces with the Houthis.

Yemeni sources close to the talks say the insurgents are demanding the lifting of UN sanctions against Saleh and Houthi leaders.

Yemen's internationally recognised government is demanding the Houthis abide by a Security Council resolution calling for a political process and for the rebels to withdraw from cities they seized while surrendering their weapons.

Clashes have continued despite the ceasefire.

A military officer said Wednesday that 16 rebels and three pro-government fighters had been killed over the previous 24 hours in clashes in the Nahm region, northeast of Sanaa.

There were intermittent clashes in Nahm and Marib, east of Sanaa, on Wednesday, local sources said.

Committees formed jointly by the rebels and loyalists to monitor the ceasefire deployed on Wednesday in both areas, said Ahmed Rabie, a spokesman for pro-government members of the committees.

The conflict has raised tensions between Sunni Arab states led by Saudi Arabia and its main regional rival, Shia powerhouse Iran.

US President Barack Obama travelled Wednesday to Saudi Arabia, where he is expected to discuss the wars in Yemen and Syria with Gulf leaders.

The United States has provided precision-guided weapons and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition, which has faced mounting criticism for the number of civilian deaths from its air strikes.