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Al-Araby al-Jadeed/Agencies

Geneva Conference on the cards for Yemen's warring parties

Saudi-led airstrikes continue to hit targets in Sanaa [AFP].

Date of publication: 2 June, 2015

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UN-brokered talks may be moving closer, as an American journalist being held by the Houthis is released.
Talks are being held in Oman between Yemen's Houthi rebels and US diplomats, aimed at promoting a proposed peace conference in Geneva, which the United Nations has so far failed to persuade Yemen's warring parties to attend.

Al-Araby al-Jadeed has learnt that progress has been made in the preparations for the Geneva conference, and that its date will most likely be confirmed in the next few days.

The Yemeni president Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, currently in exile in Saudi Arabia, met with the UN special envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, after he returned from a visit to Sanaa to inform Hadi of the results of his meetings with the Houthis and their allies.

The State Department did not confirm that the talks were concerning the Geneva conference, with Anne Patterson, the top US official for Near East affairs, saying that she was in Oman for discussions "about many issues".

Separately, An American journalist among several being held by the Houthis in Yemen was freed and receiving treatment on Tuesday in Oman.

News of the release of American journalist Casey Coombs came as Omani state media reported that a Singaporean had also arrived in the sultanate on his way home.

"I can... confirm that US citizen Casey Coombs has departed Yemen and has arrived safely in Muscat," said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.

"He is in a stable condition. The US ambassador and a consular official met him at the airport upon his arrival and are providing all possible consular assistance."

Pictures released by Oman's official ONA news agency showed Coombs being stretchered into an ambulance with a brace around his head.

"We are grateful to the government of Oman and personally to Sultan Qaboos for assisting with the safe passage of a US citizen to Oman," said Harf.

Coombs, who had been working as a freelance journalist in Yemen since 2012, writing for publications including Time magazine and The Intercept, had been held by the Houthis for two weeks, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

The rebels have controlled the capital since September and, along with allied army units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, have seized much of the rest of the country despite a Saudi-led bombing campaign launched in March in support of Hadi.

The journalist's detention by the Houthis had been kept under wraps at the request of his family.

In an article he wrote for The Intercept last month, he said he had been trying to leave the country, but was struggling to find a safe route out amid the fighting.

The United States said at the weekend it was working to secure the release of "several US citizens" held in Yemen.

Secret talks

Washington has provided intelligence and logistical support for the Saudi-led air campaign but has called for a political solution to the conflict that has killed at least 2,000 people since March.

Diplomatic sources in Oman told AFP on Monday that talks were taking place between a US delegation and the Houthis.

"During these secret and informal talks, the Americans are seeking to bring closer positions of the Houthis on one hand, and the Saudis and President Hadi on the other, with the hope of convincing these to lower the ceiling of their demands," one diplomat told AFP.

The Geneva conference had been due to take place on May 28 but was postponed, after Hadi insisted that the rebels must first withdraw from at least part of the territory they have seized, in line with a UN Security Council resolution.

The Houthis have told the Americans that they want a halt to the bombing campaign and uninterrupted access for deliveries of humanitarian aid, the diplomat said.

The Saudi-led coalition has imposed an air and sea blockade on Yemen and has insisted that nothing enter or leave the impoverished country without its consent.

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