As U.N. Yemen talks loom, President pulls out and Saudi troops push in

Published 5:52 PM EDT, Sun September 13, 2015

Story highlights

The President says he won't come to the table unless Houthis withdraw from seized areas

Saudi coalition troops surge into oil-rich province of Mareb

The U.N. envoy to Yemen is set to announce the time and place for peace talks

Sanaa, Yemen CNN —  

Yemen’s exiled President and his government said Sunday that they won’t participate in upcoming U.N. peace talks.

In a statement published by the state-run Saba News Agency, President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi’s office said he wouldn’t agree to attend talks with Houthi rebels unless they comply with the April U.N. Security Council resolution demanding they withdraw from areas they’ve seized – including the capital of Sanaa. The statement also demanded that the rebels hand over the heavy arms they’ve taken from government institutions since they swept into Sanaa last September.

Also Sunday, Saudi coalition troops surged into the oil-rich province of Mareb in what two senior security officials there said was an attempt to take back rebel-controlled parts of the province before the U.N.-backed talks.

Both moves come as the U.N. envoy to Yemen is expected to announce the time and place for the upcoming peace talks within two days.

Saudi airstrikes, troops

At least 4,000 Yemeni tribal fighters aided by hundreds of coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia were battling with the Houthis in an attempt to takeover the province. Coalition air force conducted at least 140 airstrikes in Mareb over the past six hours, according to three senior Mareb security officials.

The ground offensive marks the first significant attempt by the coalition to control the province, which has seen the most airstrikes in the country since the Saudi offensive began.

Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners launched airstrikes on Houthi positions across Yemen in March, hoping to wipe out the Iranian-allied rebel group that overthrew the government and seized power.

The six-month war has resulted in the death of at least 4,000 civilians according to the Houthi-controlled Health Ministry.

Over the past week, an estimated 500 Saudi coalition-led airstrikes were conducted in Sanaa, according to the Defense Ministry, resulting in the death and injury of dozens. The latest attacks on Sanaa come in retaliation to a Houthi attack on a coalition military base last week that killed dozens of Emirate, Saudi and Bahraini troops.

U.N. talks’ aim: Shaping a strategy

Hadi has refused to start political talks with the Houthis for months, repeatedly demanding the rebels’ acceptance of the resolution’s terms.

The April U.N. Security Council resolution slapped the Shiite group with sanctions – a part of the measure that’s been a key sticking point with Houthi leaders ever since.

But otherwise, according to senior Houthi-alled politicians and U.N. envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, Houthis have accepted a majority of the resolution.

The upcoming U.N.-sponsored talks will focus on making a strategy for implementing it, senior Houthi officials told CNN.

“Accepting the U.N. resolution is not the concern; the problem is the implementation. The Houthis have accepted to withdraw their forces and hand in the arms they seized, but want to ensure they take place in a manner that doesn’t keep Yemen lawless,” said Hasan Zaid, President of the Houthi-allied Haq party.

“Withdrawing forces with no replacement for security will allow al Qaeda to take control, as they did in southern provinces.”

CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.