UN envoy says expects Yemen talks by mid-November

MANAMA - The UN special envoy to Yemen said on Sunday he expects talks between its warring parties to begin by mid-November, eight months after the start of a messy civil war that has killed thousands and caused a humanitarian crisis.

The conflict pits the Iran-allied Houthi militia and army units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh against armed groups who support exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi alongside a Saudi-led Arab coalition.

"I expect that before mid-November, God willing, a date will be specified and I expect that the dialogue must begin before mid-November, as a minimum, 15 November," UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed told Reuters in Bahrain.

All major combatants have publicly agreed to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which calls on Houthi and Saleh forces to withdraw from main cities and surrender arms captured from Yemeni government forces.

However, while Hadi and the coalition have previously demanded that this happen before talks begin, the Houthis and Saleh want talks to address mechanism for Resolution 2216 to be implemented. Discussions between the United Nations and the Houthis have taken place already in Oman's capital Muscat.

"I have a team in Riyadh and before that they were in Muscat, exactly to reach agreement on the date and venue and the subjects that will be discussed within the context of UN Security Council Resolution 2216," Ould Cheikh Ahmed said.

He added that a statement on Friday by a senior Houthi leader that efforts to find a political solution had failed did not appear to represent the group's official position.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Saturday that he believed the coalition's Yemen campaign was in its "final phase" after military gains against the Houthis and given their willingness for talks.

However, the Houthis and Saleh's forces still hold most of the country's western highlands, its most populous region including the capital Sanaa. Ould Sheikh Ahmed said he did not believe the coalition intended to take Sanaa by force.

"I can say simply what I have been told, but I can't speak for the coalition. I don't think anybody has any intention to enter into Sanaa. People prefer to have a political solution."

In the southern port of Aden which the coalition and local forces took back from the Houthis in July, two unidentified assailants on motorbike shot dead a Yemeni secret service officer late on Saturday, a security official said on Sunday.