UN urges lexibility in Yemen talks
Houthis should withdraw from Hodeidah, insists Yemen’s FM
UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-general Antonio Guterres on Thursday called on Yemen’s warring sides to engage in Un-brokered talks without imposing pre-conditions afer the government and rebels put forward demands.
Yemen’s government and Houthi rebels began talks in Sweden on Thursday.
Guterres “urges the parties to make progress on the agenda for the consultations... by exercising flexibility and engaging in good faith and without pre-conditions,” said a UN statement.
The UN chief appealed to the sides to continue the de-escalation of Hodeidah, the rebel-held port city that is a key entry point for humanitarian aid and vital supplies.
In Sweden earlier, Yemen’s foreign minister called for the withdrawal of the Houthis from Hodeidah.
Khaled Al Yamani, who heads the Saudi-backed government’s delegation to the Un-sponsored talks, told media that his team would follow through with a planned prisoner swap with the Houthi rebels.
But he refused to compromise on the flashpoint city of Hodeidah, home to Yemen’s most valuable port.
STOCKHOLM: Yemen’s both sides agreed to free thousands of prisoners on Thursday, in what a UN mediator called a hopeful start to the irst peace talks in years to end the war.
UN mediator Martin Grifiths told a news conference in a renovated castle outside Stockholm that just getting the both sides to the table was an important milestone.
No talks have been held since 2016, and the last attempt in Geneva in September failed when the Houthis did not attend.
Grifiths said the prisoner swap agreed at the start of the talks would reunite thousands of families.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled Al Yamani, who heads the Saudi-backed government’s delegation to the UN-sponsored talks, said his team would follow through with a planned prisoner swap with the Houthi rebels — but refused to compromise on the flashpoint city of Hodeida.
“The Houthi militias must withdraw from the city of Hodeida and its port and hand it over to the legitimate government, and specifically internal security forces,” Yamani said.
The war has been stalemated for years, threatening supply lines to feed nearly 30 million inhabitants.
Diplomats are expected to shuttle between the warring parties to discuss other confidence-building steps and the formation of a transitional governing body, a UN source said.
The Swedish hosts called for constructive talks to end what Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom called a “catastrophe.” Grifiths, lanked by the two delegations, told them not to waiver.
Grifiths wants a deal on reopening Sanaa airport, shoring up the central bank and securing a truce in Hodeidah, the country’s main port, held by the Houthis and a focus of the war after the coalition launched a campaign to capture it this year.
This could lead to a wider ceaseire to halt coalition air strikes, and Houthi missile attacks on Saudi cities.
A UN source said that the two sides were still far from agreement on the three issues, especially on who should manage Hodeidah port and whether the Houthis should entirely quit the city. “Hodeidah is very complex,” the source said.
The United Nations is trying to avert a full-scale assault on Hodeidah, the entry point for most of Yemen’s commercial goods and aid. Both sides have reinforced positions in the Red Sea city in sporadic battles after a de-escalation last month.
The other main route in and out of Houthi territory is the Sanaa airport, but access is restricted by the Saudi-led coalition which controls the air space.
A survey of food security in Yemen has found more than 15 million people are in a “crisis” or “emergency” situation and that number could hit 20 million without sustained food aid, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said in a statement on Thursday.
The survey, carried out by Yemeni and international experts in October according to an international system for classifying food crises, also found about 65,000 in a food “catastrophe” or near famine levels, mostly in conlict zones. That number that could rise to 237,000 if aid does not get through, the WFP said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Thursday it was ready to play a role in the Yemeni prisoner swap and voiced hope that the deal between the warring sides would build confidence for a political solution to end the war.
“The ICRC has been asked to play its role as a neutral intermediary and provide technical support...it will be of utmost importance to be able to certify the will of each detainee to be part of the process,” Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC regional director for the Middle East, said in a statement.
Carboni, speaking earlier to reporters, said that the estimated number of Yemeni detainees “varies from 5,000 to 8,000.”
NO END TO MISERY: A Syrian boy and girl carry pots of food while walking in the mud at a camp for the displaced near the village of Shamarin in the northern Aleppo province on Thursday.
Margot Wallstrom (left) and Martin Griffiths attend the opening press conference in Rimbo on Thursday.