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”.

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