Indirect Yemen talks not good start for peace
All former negotiations had collapsed, leading to more violence on the ground
ADEN, Yemen — UN-sponsored peace talks to build confidence between Yemen’s warring factions started on Thursday in Sweden in the first step to resume the political process which ground to a halt in 2016.
The talks were the first in two years in a conflict between a Saudibacked pro-government military coalition and Houthi rebels that has pushed Yemen to the brink of mass starvation.
However, the consultations are indirect, with UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths talking separately to the Houthi and Saudibacked government delegations.
Also, controversial issues, especially over control of Hodeidah province, add complications to the process.
The Yemeni government insists on retaking Hodeidah, where its forces, with support from a Saudi-led coalition, have been engaged in battles with the Houthis for months.
Moreover, it insists on implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which calls for Houthi withdrawal from cities and the handover of heavy weapons.
Griffiths said at the opening of the consultations that the talks are being focused on Hodeidah, reopening airports, the economy, the humanitarian crisis, and releasing all prisoners.
Shortly before heading for Sweden, the government and the rebels started arrangements for the release of all prisoners and detainees, and all they need to agree on during the consultations is a suitable mechanism to make that a reality.
“These political consultations in Sweden are the first step toward putting Yemen on the path to peace,” Griffiths said.
Yemen’s warring factions have held several rounds of peace talks since the conflict began after the Houthis seized power in late 2014. But all of the talks have collapsed, leading to more violence on the ground.
‘No preconditions’ urged
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the warring parties on Thursday not to impose preconditions after both sides put forward demands, while the rebels said they were still assessing the “seriousness” of the hard-won talks.
Political commentator Abbas al-Dhaleai said: “The political process after what Saudi Arabia has done and spent in Yemen means a defeat for Saudi Arabia. The Gulf kingdom will not accept defeat. It wants to disarm the Houthis, a thing that can’t be achieved in reality.
“The Houthis have been taking advantage of the Saudi-led coalition’s confusion and political and military failures. But the most important thing is that they are not statesmen, but militants. They can’t imagine themselves living without arms,” Dhaleai added.
Adil al-Shuja’a, a politics professor at Sana’a University, said foreign powers do not want to end the conflict in Yemen because they want to sell more arms.