UN announces 'press blackout' around Yemen peace talks

The United Nations special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed makes a statement at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland on Dec 7, 2015.
The United Nations special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed makes a statement at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland on Dec 7, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA (AFP) - Peace talks between Yemen's warring factions set to kick off next week will be held in a secret location, with no media access, the United Nations said Tuesday (Dec 8).

United Nations envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed "has decided that the venue of the meeting will not be made public, in order to give the talks every chance of success," the UN said in a statement.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed announced the new round of talks on Monday, stressing a swift halt to the fighting was imperative for those caught up in what has increasingly become a regional conflict.

Talks to ease the violence in Yemen have been stalled for months, with the conflict escalating since March when a pro-government coalition led by Saudi Arabia began bombarding Iran-backed Huthi rebels.

The United Nations says more than 5,700 people have been killed in Yemen, almost half of them civilians, since the Saudi-led air campaign began.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed told reporters in Geneva that three delegations would take part in talks likely to be held outside Geneva starting on Dec15, with no set timeline.

The delegations include representatives of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's government, the Huthi rebels, and officials from the General People's Congress (GPC), who are loyalists of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Though not formally aligned, some GPC members have expressed support for the Huthis.

Yemen's government said earlier Tuesday that the warring sides were preparing to observe a week-long truce starting on Dec 15, at the same time as the talks in Switzerland.

"An agreement on a ceasefire between the government and the putschists should enter into force on Dec 15 with the start of negotiations," Foreign Minister Abdel Malak al-Mekhlafi told AFP.

There was no immediate confirmation from the rebels that they would abide by a ceasefire, but Ould Cheikh Ahmed has said he is certain that the Iran-backed Huthis will show up for talks.

The UN envoy said Riyadh has promised to observe the ceasefire and pause its aerial assault on rebel positions during talks.

Given the delicate situation, the UN said Ould Cheikh Ahmed wanted to avoid on-site media coverage of the talks.

"It might be possible to hold a photo opportunity at the Palais des Nations (the UN's European headquarters in Geneva) before the start of the talks," the statement said.

"However, once the talks commence at the non-disclosed location, a press blackout will take effect," it stressed.

Reporters would not be left completely in the dark, however.

"The Special Envoy wishes to maintain a flow of information to the media. Therefore, periodic updates may be provided," the UN statement said.