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UN chief Ban Ki-moon calls for Ramadan halt to Yemen fighting

US Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for a two-week "humanitarian pause" in fighting in Yemen to mark Ramadan. His appeal comes as peace talks get underway in Switzerland.

Speaking as he opened the peace talks in Geneva on Monday, Ban called for the immediate humanitarian pause to allow aid to reach Yemenis in need.

He noted that the holy Muslim month of Ramadan was commencing in two days' time, calling it a period for "harmony, peace and reconciliation."

Ban stressed the need for immediate action in Yemen, saying that "the region simply cannot sustain another open wound like Syria and Libya."

"Today Yemen's very existence hangs in the balance. While the parties bicker, Yemen burns," Ban told reporters.

He also called for the warring factions to go further than the proposed humanitarian pause and agree on local cease-fires, withdrawing armed groups from cities.


Tense talks

Ban called on all parties at the Geneva talks to reach agreement on a "comprehensive and lasting" cease-fire and dismissed fears that the negotiations could be jeopardized by the late arrival of a rebel delegation.

He said that the delay was due to logistical reasons and that the team was expected later in the day.

Ban expressed the hope that the talks would mark "the beginning of the end of the fighting."

Rescuers trying to save people buried in rubble after an alleged Saudi-led airstrike in Sanaa EPA/YAHYA ARHAB +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Saudi-led airstrikes are alleged to have killed civilians and caused widespread damage.

A breakthrough at the talks, scheduled to run for two to three days, is widely considered to be unlikely, with the two sides not even due to begin negotiations in the same room.

Yemen has been ravaged by an insurgency pitting Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels against the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who has been forced into exile in Saudi Arabia.

The Houthis have seized large swathes of the country including the capital, Sanaa, in fighting that has claimed more than 2,500 lives and triggered a humanitarian crisis.

Saudi Arabia, which fears Iran may be seeking a foothold on the Arabian peninsula by proxy, has been drawn into fighting, leading airstrikes against the rebels since March 26.

tj/jil AFP, AP

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