UN urges lex­i­bil­ity in Ye­men talks

Houthis should with­draw from Hodei­dah, in­sists Ye­men’s FM

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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.”

Agence France-presse

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.

Reuters

Mar­got Wall­strom (left) and Martin Grif­fiths at­tend the open­ing press con­fer­ence in Rimbo on Thurs­day.

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