GENEVA: The United Nations on Wednesday scrambled to get Yemen peace talks in Geneva moving with both the exiled government and the Iran-backed Yemeni rebels accusing each other of trying to sabotage the process.
The third day of the high stakes talks, launched by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with an appeal for a badly-needed two-week humanitarian truce, also hit a snag over an inflated rebel presence.
"The only positive point so far is that the negotiations are continuing and that no delegation has slammed the door," said a Western diplomat following the talks.
The UN special envoy for Yemen, Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, meanwhile was trying to get the rebels to whittle down their team from 22 to the pre-agreed 10.
"We believe that in order to commence, the numbers need to be reduced and there has to be a balance between the two teams," he said.
He also repeated that the warring sides had to bend down.
"In a situation like this, the Yemenis need to talk among themselves, not with the United Nations," he said.
"As long as we have not reached the point where the Yemenis agree together, this will be very difficult."
Yemeni Foreign Minister Riad Yassin repeated the exiled government s stand that a rebel pullout was non-negotiable.
"We are demanding their retreat from all the provinces to conclude a ceasefire or truce in keeping with Resolution 226 of the Security Council," he said.
The rebels control a vast swath of territory, including the capital Sanaa.
On Tuesday they accused Saudi Arabia of trying to torpedo the peace talks and claimed the exiled government was trying to impose its own agenda on the UN.
They arrived a day late in Geneva on Tuesday for the talks after being stranded in Djibouti — a delay they blamed on Riyadh, claiming that the Saudis had asked Egypt and Sudan to close their airspace to the chartered plane.
Meanwhile Abdulmalek al-Huthi, the leader of the Shiite rebels who bear his name, said the government was trying to "impose their own agenda," and use the UN special envoy as a "tool".
"Leave to the United Nations some neutrality to continue its mission… Stop your continuous attempts to control its new envoy," said Huthi.
Yemen has been wracked by conflict between Iran-backed Shiite rebels and troops loyal to exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled to Saudi Arabia in February.
Global powers are keen for a speedy resolution, fearing the growing power of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemeni branch of the jihadist network that has taken advantage of the chaos to seize territory.
The US said Tuesday that the UN talks were "the best way forward for Yemenis" with a political solution "the only way to resolve the crisis".
"We encourage Yemenis participating in the talks to work towards a rapid resumption of the Yemeni political transition process," the State Department s press office director Jeff Rathke said.
The UN has described Yemen s humanitarian crisis as "catastrophic", with 80 percent of the population — 20 million people — in need of aid.
The UN children s agency said Tuesday that at least 279 children had been killed in conflict since the Saudi-led strikes began — a figure four times higher than for the whole of last year.
Both experts and some participants are pessimistic about the outcome of the talks.
The positions of the two warring sides are so divergent that they will not be sitting in the same room and the UN will be holding separate consultations with them. (Agencies)