SANAA, Yemen – Yemen's internationally-recognized prime minister said on Monday that upcoming United Nations-sponsored peace talks in Geneva are aimed at "restoring power" to his government and pressuring Shiite rebels to withdraw from occupied cities.
Speaking to reporters from the Saudi capital, Riyadh, Khaled Bahah said he hopes the June 14 meeting will later lead to more intensive negotiations on a road map for Yemen's future. That includes an eventual referendum on a draft constitution and fresh elections, he said.
Bahah's remarks come as a Saudi-led military coalition continues bombing rebel positions for a third month. The Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, control the capital, Sanaa, and are allied with ousted Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Withdrawal of the rebels from occupied cities is key point for Bahah's government, which insists that the Geneva talks will not be a negotiation. Instead the government, which initially threatened to boycott the talks, said it is sending representatives purely to discuss ways to implement the U.N. Security Council's resolution on Yemen — which calls for the withdrawal of rebel forces from occupied cities, paving the way for the return of Bahah's government.
"Going to Geneva is meant to consult on the mechanism of ... the return of the state," Bahah said. "There will be no negotiations."
Bahah also sought to reassure Yemeni army commanders who have sided with the rebels. The Houthis are allied with members of the army and security forces who remain loyal to Saleh. But Bahah promised that government plans to restructure the country's armed forces would not include an Iraq-style purge of veteran officers. Instead he called for broadening the demographics of the military to include soldiers from different regions, sects and tribes.
"I assure the current army. You are going to be part of the new army so as not to repeat the story of Iraq," he said.
Forces loyal to the exiled government of Bahah and President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi continue to fend off rebel forces pushing toward their southern stronghold of Aden. Rebels have imposed a siege on Aden, preventing access to food and fuel, according to residents.