Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi militia on Monday rejected a unanimous appeal from the U.N. Security Council to restore constitutional order in the country after months of chaos, Middle Eastern media reported.
At a special meeting of the 15-member Security Council on Sunday, the diplomats adopted a resolution calling on the Houthis to return control of the government to elected leaders and release President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, who has been under house arrest since Jan. 22.
The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council also met over the weekend in Riyadh and warned that Yemen's neighbors would take action themselves if the Shiite militants continue to engage in clashes with other Yemenis and fail to allow government functions to resume.
"Yemen is collapsing before our eyes. We cannot stand by and watch," U.N. Secretary General
On Monday, the Houthi rebels refused either to cede power or to release Hadi, the Al-Arabiya news agency reported from Sana, the Yemeni capital.
It quoted a Houthi statement as saying the outside world needed to "respect the will and sovereignty of the Yemeni people, and to be accurate and objective." The Houthis also reportedly warned the Security Council "not to follow the lead of regional powers that aim tirelessly to eliminate the will of the Yemeni people in a flagrant violation of international conventions that criminalize meddling in internal affairs," the news agency reported.
A U.N. special envoy visited Hadi at his Sana home on Monday to discuss the international efforts to secure his freedom and avert further bloodshed in a country where badly deteriorating security has prompted an exodus of diplomats.
Special U.N. advisor Jamal Benomar told Yemen's Saba News Agency that he assured Hadi that the international community was working for his release. He also urged all parties to Yemen's turmoil to engage in negotiations to avert a full-scale sectarian war.
"Either the country will descend into civil war and disintegration, or the country will find a way to put the transition back on track," Benomar was quoted as saying by Sana. "This largely depends on the political will of Yemeni leaders. They all bear responsibility for the current state of affairs, as well as responsibility for finding a way to pull the country from the brink."
Nadia Sakkaf, who was information minister in the government, announced via Twitter on Monday that Hadi needs to travel abroad "immediately" for medical treatment of a heart condition that has been aggravated by his detention.
Yemen, a key partner with the United States in the war against terrorism, has succumbed to anarchy since the Houthis descended on the capital last fall. The militants last month detained Hadi in his residence and forced the resignation of the government. The militia dissolved the parliament on Feb. 6 and formed a "transitional council" to replace the legislature.
But the militia has no capacity to govern, and anti-Houthi protests have mounted in recent days, including a pro-government rally by thousands in Houthi-controlled Ibb on Saturday that the militia dispersed by firing live rounds on the demonstrators, the Yemenonline news website reported.
The Security Council resolution, drafted by Britain and Jordan, "deplored the unilateral actions taken by the Houthis to dissolve parliament and take over Yemen's government institutions" and reiterated calls for all factions to resolve their disputes through negotiation.
The soaring insecurity prompted the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Britain, Spain, Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates to close their embassies in Sana earlier this month. On Monday, Turkey and Japan announced that they too were relocating their diplomatic staffs out of the country until order is restored.
Yemen is home to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which U.S. security officials consider the most dangerous remnant of the global terror network developed by Osama bin Laden.
Yemen's location along the narrow passage from the Red Sea into the Gulf of Aden also poses risks to oil shipments from the region if the Shiite militants gain control of the strategic overlooks and attempt to menace exports from Saudi Arabia, the Sunni powerhouse that is Houthi-allied Iran's arch rival for power in the Muslim world.