Yemen rebels, government set for peace talks
Peace talks between Yemen’s government and rivals aimed at ending four years of devastating war will open today in Sweden, the UN announced.
No breakthrough is expected at the talks, which mark the first meeting between Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and Houthi rebels, since 2016 — when more than 100 days of negotiations failed to end a war that has now claimed upwards of 10,000 lives and pushed 14mn people to the brink of famine.
Analysts and UN sources have set a low bar for the talks, which they say aim for “confidence-building” between the two parties, at war since 2015.
Sources close to the rebels say the Houthis are expected to request the reopening of Sanaa International Airport, which has been damaged by Saudiled air raids and shut down by Riyadh and its allies, who control Yemen’s airspace.
A source in the government delegation said President AbdRabbu Mansour Hadi’s camp is seeking maps detailing landmines planted by the rebels.
Sources on both sides said they would demand a ceasefire — initiated by their rival — and the opening of humanitarian corridors.
UN envoy Martin Griffiths flew to Sanaa in the days leading up to the Sweden summit after his plans to host talks in Geneva in September failed when the rebels refused to leave Sanaa, saying they feared they would not be allowed to return.
“The (UN special envoy) would like to announce the restart of the intra-Yemeni political process in Sweden on December 6, 2018,” his office tweeted. The government and Houthis on Tuesday agreed to a prisoner swap, to be overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross, after the Sweden talks.
Among the thousands expected to be released is President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s brother Nasser, a general and former senior intelligence official.
Saudi Arabia and its allies also allowed the Houthis to evacuate 50 wounded rebels from Sanaa for medical treatment in Oman, a condition the rebels had set prior to the foiled Geneva talks.
A 12-member team from the Saudi-backed government headed by Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, arrived in Sweden yesterday, a day after rebel delegates landed in Stockholm accompanied by the UN peace envoy.
Yemeni Information Minister Moammer al-Eryani confirmed their arrival via Twitter, saying the government team “carried with them the hopes of the Yemeni people for an end to the coup and the return of the state”. The delegation had delayed its departure until the rebels arrived in Stockholm after they failed to show up for the last UN bid to convene peace talks in September, sources close to the government said.
The head of the rebel delegation, Mohamed Abdelsalam, said the Houthis would “spare no effort to make a success of the talks to restore peace and end the aggression” — but called on rebel fighters to remain “vigilant against any attempt at a military escalation on the ground”. Yesterday, a half-dozen members of the rebel delegation could be seen on the grounds of the venue for the talks, the Johannesberg Castle — a large estate with a golf course 60 kilometres north of Stockholm, now cordoned off by police.
Analysts and diplomats have cautioned the talks could yield no breakthrough, with the two sides not due to sit down at the negotiating table together.
“I would have very low expectations,” a Security Council diplomat said on condition of anonymity. The US State Department hailed the peace talks as a “necessary and vital first step”.
The UAE, a key backer of the Hadi government with boots on the ground in Yemen, said the planned talks offered a “critical opportunity” to bring peace to a country in the grip of what the UN has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.