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Tribesmen loyal to the Houthi movement hold their weapons at a gathering to show their support for the group, in Yemen's capital Sanaa ON Dec. 15, 2015.
Khaled Abdullah / Reuters
Yemen rebels halt peace talks in Switzerland amid continued gov't strikes
Fighters from both sides are refusing to respect the cease-fire, security officials neutral in the conflict say
December 18, 201510:25AM ET
Yemeni peace talks in Switzerland were halted Friday after the country's Shia Houthi rebel delegation suspended all meetings with the internationally recognized government in protest at its cease-fire violations, members of Yemen's two warring sides said.
The Houthis said they would not resume talks unless the U.N. condemned government breaches of the week-long truce aimed at stalling the war in Yemen, the delegates said. Houthi fighters have also ignored the cease-fire agreement.
But the United Nations, which is mediating the talks, cast doubts on the alleged suspension.
"We don't have confirmation of any suspension," the deputy spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, Farhan Haq, said. He said the U.N. special envoy for the country, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, "remains in touch with the parties."
The U.N. has urged factions to end the violence and is pressing to keep the talks going. The Houthis appeared to be tactically stalling to avoid meeting their obligations under a deal reached with the government a day earlier, government delegates said.
On Thursday, the Houthis agreed to permit the resumption of humanitarian aid deliveries into the besieged city of Taiz and to exchange prisoners, including the government's defense minister Mahmoud al-Sabahi — concessions they were reluctant to make.
The war in Yemen pits the Houthis and army units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against pro-government forces, which are backed by a U.S.-supported, Saudi-led coalition, as well as southern separatists and other fighters.
The peace negotiations began Tuesday at the Swiss Olympic House in the village of Macolin, a training center for elite athletes. Police armed with automatic weapons patrolled outside the facility, which was cordoned off with metal barriers requiring journalists to keep about 50 yards away.
The U.N. mediator has sought to keep a lid on communications about the goings-on inside — with mixed results. Officials have never fully acknowledged the location of the talks, and Ahmad Fawzi, a U.N. spokesman in Geneva, has said participants signed a "non-disclosure" agreement pledging not to speak to the media until they were over.
On the ground, fighters from both sides are refusing to respect the cease-fire, security officials neutral in the conflict said. A member of the Houthi delegation said that U.N. envoy Ahmed had "promised to condemn the government and then he did not."
"They are using the cease-fire as an excuse although they were the first to break it," a government delegate said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.