Yemen's Hadi says 'no negotiations' with rebels in Geneva

Jamal al-Jabiri with Fawaz al-Haidari in Aden
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Yemenis ride their motorbike past the rubble of a building following an air-strike by the Saudi-led coalition in the capital Sanaa on June 8, 2015

Yemenis ride their motorbike past the rubble of a building following an air-strike by the Saudi-led coalition in the capital Sanaa on June 8, 2015 (AFP Photo/Mohammed Huwais)

Sanaa (AFP) - Yemen's exiled president took a hard line Monday ahead of weekend peace talks in Geneva, ruling out negotiations with Iran-backed rebels and denouncing Tehran's "dangerous" meddling in his country.

After overrunning Sanaa in September, the Huthi rebels seized much of Yemen with the help of renegade troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, prompting a Saudi-led coalition to launch a bombing campaign against them on March 26.

President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who has taken refuge in Riyadh, said the sole item for discussion at Sunday's talks would be the implementation of a UN resolution demanding the rebels withdraw from territory they seized.

"There will be no negotiations," Hadi told Al-Arabiya television.

"It will be just a discussion about how to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2216. We will have a consultation."

Asked if his government's delegation would discuss reconciliation with the rebel negotiators, Hadi said: "Not at all."

Prime Minister Khaled Bahah echoed Hadi's remarks, telling a news conference in Riyadh the Geneva meeting would be merely "consultative".

Bahah, who is also vice president, said the exiled government would go with only one goal -- "implementing 2216 and reinstating the state" overran by Huthis.

Once the legitimate government is reinstated, "all political factions return to dialogue to resume the political process... and approve the draft constitution and organise elections," he added.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has urged all sides to head to Geneva without preconditions.

Ban "reiterates his urgent call on all Yemeni parties to engage in these consultations in good faith and without preconditions in the interest of all Yemeni people," his spokesman said.

He said the talks were aimed at securing a ceasefire, agreeing on a withdrawal plan for the Huthis and stepping up humanitarian aid deliveries.

- EU implements sanctions -

Ahead of the talks, the European Union said it was implementing UN sanctions against Huthi leader Abdulmalek al-Huthi as well as Saleh's son, Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The pair "have been targeted with a travel ban and an asset freeze over their actions against Yemen's peace and stability," the EU said, adding the move reflected Resolution 2216.

In the interview, Hadi again hit out at Saudi Arabia's regional rival Iran, charging its meddling was "more dangerous than Al-Qaeda".

Yemen is home to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, classified by the United States as the network's deadliest franchise.

"Al-Qaeda could be eliminated, but here we have a systematically politicised action," said Hadi.

Iran, which has repeatedly denied supporting the Huthis, on Monday sent its foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to Oman for talks on "regional issues," said IRNA state news agency.

The Huthis said they met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, who had shown "understanding... that the military option cannot resolve the Yemeni" crisis.

In Saudi Arabia, a cross-border missile strike from Yemen on Monday killed two more Saudi soldiers, the coalition said, days after four died in battle and a Scud missile was fired.

At least 37 people, most of them armed forces members but also civilians, have been killed in Saudi-Yemeni border skirmishes and shelling since the air campaign began.

- Strikes, clashes -

In the capital, coalition warplanes launched new strikes on the rebels, after overnight raids hit military positions held by the fighters north of the city, witnesses said.

In the southern city of Aden, a woman and three of her children were killed when a Katyusha rocket fired by rebels hit their home, a pro-Hadi militia spokesman said.

The rebels have been trying for five days to advance towards Buraiqa, a strategic sector of the city that houses an oil refinery and a port.

Nine people, among them three civilians, were killed and 53 were wounded in 24 hours of fighting across Aden, Yemen's second largest city, medical officials said.

It came a day after 15 civilians were killed when a coalition strike hit a bus carrying people between the southern provinces of Lahj and Taez, medical and local sources said.

Clashes also killed 19 rebels and three pro-Hadi fighters in Taez province, while in Taez city three civilians were killed in mortar rounds fired by rebels and four wounded, officials added.

More than 2,000 people have died in Yemen fighting and raids since March.