Yemen peace talks to begin on Thursday in Sweden, UN confirms

Frederick Owens
December 7, 2018

The UN considers Yemen the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and has repeatedly warned of a looming starvation.

Saudi Arabia and its allies launched the deadly military aggression against Yemen in March 2015 in an attempt to reinstall the country's former Riyadh-allied regime and crush the Houthis, who have been running state affairs in the absence of an effective government.

A 12-member team from the Saudi-backed government headed by Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani left Riyadh early Wednesday, sources told AFP, a day after rebel delegates landed in Stockholm accompanied by the United Nations peace envoy.

It was not clear if the warring parties would hold direct talks or if Griffiths would shuttle between the two sides.

The Houthis have also called for guarantees for their safety if they leave the country - a key condition which led to the collapse of earlier talks planned for September in Geneva.

The US State Department hailed the peace talks in Sweden as a "necessary and vital first step" and called on all parties to "cease any ongoing hostilities".

No date has been announced for the start of the negotiations, but Yemeni government sources said they could begin Thursday.

"This is one step in the right direction towards the building of mutual trust among Yemeni communities", spokesperson Mirella Hodeib told AFP.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it welcomed the announcement and would oversee and facilitate the exchange.

Yemeni government official Hadi Haig said between 1,500 and 2,000 pro-government personnel and between 1,000 and 1,500 Houthis would be released.

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The government delegation and the head of the rebel delegation were heading to Sweden on Wednesday.

'Today we completed the procedures and received a signed copy of the agreement.

The deal was struck by Griffiths, in the rebel-held capital Sanaa for meetings already buoyed by the evacuation of wounded insurgents - a rebel precondition for talks.

Outrage over the October 2 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has intensified worldwide scrutiny of Saudi activities in the region, potentially giving Western powers, which provide arms and intelligence to the coalition, more leverage to demand action.

The UN food agency said it was planning to scale up food distribution rapidly to help another four million people in Yemen over the next two months, more than a 50 per cent rise on the number now reached.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif expressed his support for the talks in a tweet on Monday.

Yemen has been wracked by violence since 2014, when the Houthi rebel group overran much of the country.

The Houthis, who are more adept at guerrilla warfare, hold most population centers including Sanaa and the port city of Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions that is now a focus of the war.

The demands are unacceptable to the rebels and subsequent peace efforts, including three months of negotiations in Kuwait that broke down in 2016, have focused on a power-sharing government and a federal political system.

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