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.

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