Mohammed Abdul-Salam (L), head of the Houthi delegation to scheduled peace talks in Kuwait, speaks at a news conference at Sanaa Airport, Yemen, April 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi(reuters_tickers)
By Mohammed Ghobari
KUWAIT (Reuters) - Yemen's warring factions agreed on an agenda on Tuesday for U.N.-backed peace negotiations, delegates said, following heavy pressure from world powers.
The talks to end fighting between the Iran-allied Houthis and supporters of Saudi-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi were launched last week but were suspended on Sunday amid bickering about flights over Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition.
The Houthis argue that the flights constitute a violation of the truce that began on April 10 to facilitate the talks. The Hadi government insists the flights are intended to prevent the Houthis and their ally, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, from moving heavy weapons around.
The stability of Yemen, where al Qaeda and Islamic State are vying for influence, is of international concern as the country neighbours Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, and is also near key shipping lanes.
Differences over the agenda had made it difficult for the two sides to start real negotiations to end the 13-month war that has killed more than 6,200 people, wounded more than 35,000 and displaced more than 2.5 million people.
The two sides had agreed last week to a five-point agenda outlined by the U.N. special envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, but remained divided over whether to start with a unity government or to focus on a Houthi withdrawal from the cities and the handover of their weapons.
Delegates said the two sides had agreed on Tuesday to work in two parallel committees.
"The talks will start tomorrow (Wednesday) to discuss this agenda," one delegate told Reuters.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdel-Malek al-Mekhlafi said the agenda provided for the Houthis to quit cities they seized since 2014, allowing the government to retake control of the state.
"We consider approval by the Houthis and the General People's Congress party (of ex-president Saleh) of the agenda as a good step that can lead to positive results," Mekhlafi said.
Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, whose country is hosting the talks, had personally waded into the dispute, helping to smooth differences over the truce and over the agenda, delegates said.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Islamic State have exploited the crisis to expand their control in Yemen and to recruit new followers.
Hadi supporters, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, have attacked the AQAP stronghold in southern Yemen over the past two days, driving them from the Hadramout provincial capital and from key Arabian Sea ports.
Delegates said Tuesday's talks followed strong pressure from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
"The diplomats were quite tough and used harsh language, telling them that peace in Yemen was important for regional security and that no one would be allowed to leave Kuwait without an agreement," one source told Reuters.
Yemen's crisis began in September 2014 when the Houthis seized the capital Sanaa. A Saudi-led Arab alliance intervened in March last year, launching a campaign of mostly air strikes against the Houthis in support of Hadi's forces.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari, Writing by Sami Aboudi, editing by Gareth Jones)