Yemen War Rivals Double Down as UN Talks Open
GENEVA (Dispatches) - Yemen’s government and rebels, locked in a devastating war, traded accusations Thursday as they sat down for hard-won talks the United Nations described as “difficult” but “critical”.
The talks in Sweden are the first in two years, in a conflict between a pro-government military coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, and Iran-backed Huthi insurgents that has pushed impoverished Yemen to the brink of mass starvation.
While the days leading up to the gathering saw the government and rebels agreeing on a prisoner swap deal and the evacuation of wounded insurgents for medical treatment in Oman, both parties dug in on their demands as the talks began.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday urged the warring parties not to impose pre-conditions after both sides put forward demands, while the rebels said they were still assessing the “seriousness” of the hard-won talks.
“We will judge whether the Stockholm talks are serious or not tomorrow,” Huthi spokesman Mohammed Abdelsalam told the Arabic-language Al-Mayadeen television channel Thursday night.
The talks, in the picturesque Swedish village of Rimbo north of Stockholm, where the two sides have to eat in the same cafeteria, are slated to run for one week.
The UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said the talks presented a “critical opportunity” but did not amount to negotiations on a full end to the conflict between the Iran-backed Huthi rebels and the rival government alliance led by Saudi Arabia.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one UN official said the talks marked “the beginning of difficult work”.