Delegation Arrives for Yemen Talks

GENEVA (AP) -- A delegation including Yemen's Shiite Houthi rebels arrived in Geneva for U.N.-brokered peace talks on Tuesday after a daylong delay in Djibouti, while new U.N. figures showed the civilian death toll in the country continuing to mount.

The delegation from Yemen's capital, Sanaa, arrived Tuesday morning, U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told reporters, a day later than expected.

The Geneva talks are aimed at ending months of fighting that prompted a Saudi-led coalition to launch an air campaign against the Houthis and their allies nearly three months ago. The rebels have blamed their delayed arrival on Egypt, a member of the coalition.

It's unclear how long the talks -- at least initially involving mediators shuttling between the parties, rather than face-to-face encounters --- will last. Fawzi said the start of Ramadan later this week may affect whether the delegations stay.

"It is a golden opportunity to try and resolve this crisis," Fawzi said. But "whether they will agree to extend their stay beyond the beginning of Ramadan is anybody's guess."

Figures released Tuesday underlined the urgency of finding a solution. Between Thursday and Monday, 50 civilians were killed --- among them 18 children --- and a further 111 were wounded, the U.N. human rights office said. That brings the total number of civilians killed since March 26 to 1,412, with 3,423 wounded, it added.

UNICEF, the U.N. children's agency, said that at least 279 children have been killed and 402 wounded in total since March 26, and that children are being used by armed groups to man checkpoints or carry arms.

Yemen's conflict pits the Houthis --- who seized Sanaa last year --- and military units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against an array of forces, including southern separatists, local and tribal militias, Islamic militants and loyalists of exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The delegation from Sanaa includes loyalists of Saleh and representatives of other political groups.

The U.N. secretary-general's special envoy on Yemen was to meet them at their hotel to get the delegation down to the maximum seven people, plus three advisers, that was agreed for the talks, Fawzi said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pressed for a halt to fighting at the start of Ramadan, the Muslim month of dawn-to-dusk fasting, as he launched the talks Monday.

(KA)