Aug 27, 1:02 PM EDT

Yemen says no talks with rebels until they lay down arms

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AP Photo/Amr Nabil

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CAIRO (AP) -- The Yemeni government is not negotiating with Shiite Houthi rebels who control the capital and much of the north, and demands that they lay down their arms, Foreign Minister Riad Yassin said Thursday.

"The Houthis and (former President Ali Abdullah) Saleh's militias must implement the U.N. resolution and surrender their weapons, and only then the dialogue and political process can begin, with the participation of all Yemeni parties," Yassin told reporters in Cairo after meeting with Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby.

Referring to reports of meetings in the Gulf nation of Oman, Yassin described them as mere "consultations" between U.N. envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed and the Houthis, aimed at convincing them to implement a U.N. resolution from April.

That resolution requested that the Houthis withdraw from areas they seized and surrender weapons they took from military and state institutions.

"That is the only solution that is on the table; there is nothing else," said Yassin, who along with the rest of Yemen's internationally recognized government is in exile in Saudi Arabia.

Yemen's conflict pits the Iran-supported Houthi rebels and troops loyal to Saleh against an array of forces including southern separatists, local and tribal militias, Sunni Islamic militants as well as troops loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The conflict escalated in March when a Saudi-led coalition started launching airstrikes against the Houthis.

Human Rights Watch said Thursday that "dozens of civilians" have been killed and wounded in the northeastern Hajja province by what appear to be "cluster munition rockets" fired by the Saudi-led coalition.

The cluster munitions seem to have been fired in at least seven attacks from late April to mid-July in Hajja, the group said in an emailed statement.

It said it found unexploded sub-munitions during visits to some of the sites, which it said would detonate when picked up by civilians. The areas included farming and grazing fields in Houthi-controlled zones.

"Several of the attacks took place in or near areas with concentrations of civilians, indicating that the rocket attacks themselves may have been unlawfully indiscriminate in violation of the laws of war," the group said. It urged the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate "alleged serious laws-of-war violations by all parties to the armed conflict in Yemen."

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