Ye­men war ri­vals lash out as talks start

▶ Con­sul­ta­tions mark 1st at­tempt in two years to bro­ker an end to con­flict

Global Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Talks be­tween Ye­men’s gov­ern­ment and rebels, locked in a dev­as­tat­ing war for nearly four years, opened Thurs­day as ten­sion re­mained high de­spite what the UN en­voy called a “crit­i­cal op­por­tu­nity.”

Ye­men’s gov­ern­ment and rebels dou­bled down on their ri­val de­mands Thurs­day, just mo­ments be­fore hard-won con­sul­ta­tions were due to open in Swe­den un­der the aus­pices of the US.

The talks will not in­clude ne­go­ti­a­tions on a so­lu­tion to the con­flict be­tween the Saudibacked gov­ern­ment of Abedrabbo Man­sour Hadi and Ye­men’s Huthi rebels, UN en­voy Martin Grif­fiths told re­porters.

As one of the most im­pov­er­ished coun­tries in the world, the Ara­bian Penin­sula state of Ye­men is now home to what the UN calls the world’s worst hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis, with 14 mil­lion peo­ple fac­ing im­mi­nent mass star­va­tion.

The talks have been months in the mak­ing, with the UN send­ing its spe­cial en­voy to Sanaa to per­son­ally es­cort the rebel del­e­ga­tion to Swe­den. They are slated to last for one week, ac­cord­ing to a source in the UN.

“Dur­ing the coming days we will have a crit­i­cal op­por­tu­nity to give mo­men­tum to the peace process,” Grif­fiths told re­porters as the ri­val del­e­ga­tions gath­ered in Swe­den.

“There is a way we can re­solve the con­flict,” Grif­fiths said, adding that the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil was “united” in its sup­port for a res­o­lu­tion to the con­flict.

“Re­mem­ber these are con­sul­ta­tions. We are not yet be­gin­ning the process of ne­go­ti­a­tions.”

The talks mark the first at­tempt in two years to bro­ker an end to the Ye­men con­flict, which has killed at least 10,000 peo­ple since Saudi Ara­bia and its al­lies joined the gov­ern­ment’s fight against the rebels in 2015.

War­ring par­ties struck a far from con­cil­ia­tory tone in the mo­ments be­fore the talks were due to open in Rimbo, Swe­den – a pic­turesque vil­lage some 60 kilo­me­ters north of Stock­holm.

The head of the Huthi rebels’ po­lit­i­cal coun­cil threat­ened Thurs­day to bar UN planes from us­ing the Ye­meni cap­i­tal’s air­port un­less the peace ne­go­ti­a­tions lead to its full re­open­ing.

Sanaa in­ter­na­tional air­port, lo­cated in the rebel-held cap­i­tal, has been largely shut down for years. It has been the tar­get of air raids by the Saudi-led coali­tion, which also con­trols Ye­meni airspace.

The Ye­meni gov­ern­ment im­me­di­ately hit back, with the for­eign min­istry de­mand­ing the rebels dis­arm and with­draw from the flash­point port city of Hodeida, home to Ye­men’s most valu­able port.

The Saudi-led coali­tion has led an of­fen­sive to re­take Hodeida, the last rebel strong­hold on Ye­men’s Red Sea coast, for months, spark­ing fears for more than 150,000 civil­ians trapped in the city as even hos­pi­tals were seized by mil­i­tants.

Grif­fiths said the UN was will­ing to step in in Hodeida, an of­fer the Saudi-led coali­tion has re­jected un­less the rebels with­draw com­pletely from Ye­men’s western coast­line.

“The UN is will­ing if the par­ties so de­sire to play a part in the port and city. We’d like to take Hodeida out of the con­flict be­cause ... it’s the hu­man­i­tar­ian pipe­line to the rest of the coun­try,” Grif­fiths said.

“We would like to see that air­port open, but it needs to be as­sessed,” he said. “We’d like to see progress on this.”

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