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UN Security Council tells Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen to stand down

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution demanding that Shia rebels immediately relinquish control of Yemen's government.

Rebels must 'immediately and unconditionally' withdraw forces from government ministries

Shia Houthi fighters, seen here chewing qat leaves, an amphetamine-like stimulant, have taken control of all government institutions in Yemen (AP Photo/ (Hani Mohammed/Associated Press)

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution demanding that Shia rebels immediately relinquish control of Yemen's government in a crisis that has pushed the Arab world's poorest country near collapse.

Arab countries have been pressing for the use of military force against what they call the rebel group's "illegitimate seizure of power." But the resolution approved Sunday at an emergency meeting by all 15 council members does not act under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which would allow it to be militarily enforced.

The resolution, co-sponsored by 10 countries including the United States, demands that the Houthi rebels "immediately and unconditionally" withdraw forces from government institutions and engage "in good faith" in UN-led peace talks.

"It was clear the world was waiting for a powerful message from the UN Security Council," British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told the council. "The Houthis must take responsibility for their actions, and stop using violence and coercion as political tools."

It was the council's first resolution on Yemen since the current crisis with the rebels began.

The Houthis' takeover that began with seizing the capital, Sanaa, in September has raised alarms that the world's most dangerous branch of al-Qaeda, based in Yemen, would use the chaos to its advantage. The Houthis and the militant Sunnis of the al-Qaeda branch are bitter rivals.

Gulf nations issue warning

Worried that Shia powerhouse Iran is backing the rebels, foreign ministers of the largely Sunni six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) on Sunday urged the Security Council to intervene. They warned that if the world fails to respond they were prepared to take action on their own to maintain regional security and stability. They did not elaborate on what measures the group might take.

The Security Council resolution also demands that the Houthis release U.S.-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his cabinet from house arrest. Hadi resigned last month after the rebels dissolved the parliament.

The GCC ministers had demanded that the resolution impose sanctions against anyone "hampering the process of peaceful transition of power." The resolution only calls for "further steps" if the parties in Yemen fail to implement the resolution.

Resolution 'a milestone'

The GCC includes Yemen's neighbours Saudi Arabia and Oman as well as Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Saudi Arabia's UN Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi called the resolution "a milestone." 

"We will be following up with the council on a daily basis," he said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the council on Thursday that Yemen was "collapsing before our eyes," as the United States and several other countries closed their embassies in Yemen last week.

UN-led talks in Sanaa have made little ground, with envoy Jamal Benomar telling the Security Council on Thursday that Yemen is at a crossroads between "civil war and disintegration." He said the political uncertainty has pressured the local currency, the riyal, near the possibility of collapse.

"The people of Yemen deserve a clear path back to the political transition process and a legitimate government," U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said Sunday.

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