Yemen warring sides to free prisoners
Yemen’s warring sides agreed to free thousands of prisoners on Thursday, in what a UN mediator called a hopeful start to the first peace talks in years to end a war that has pushed millions of people to the verge of starvation.
Yemen’s warring sides agreed to free thousands of prisoners on Thursday, in what a UN mediator called a hopeful start to the first peace talks in years to end a war that has pushed millions to the verge of starvation.
UN mediator Martin Griffiths told a news conference near Stockholm that just getting the warring sides to the table was an important milestone.
The war has killed tens of thousands of people and spawned what the UN calls the world’s direst humanitarian crisis, since a Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened in 2015 to restore a government ousted by the Houthi movement. No talks have been held since 2016.
Griffiths said the prisoner swap agreed at the start of the talks would reunite thousands of families. The International Committee of the Red Cross said at least 5,000 would be freed.
Humanitarian suffering has added to pressure on the parties to end the conflict, with faith in the Saudi-led war effort flagging among western allies that arm and support the coalition.
Outrage over the October 2 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate has also undermined Western support for Riyadh’s regional activities.
Diplomats are expected to shuttle between the warring parties to discuss other confidence-building steps and the formation of a transitional governing body, a UN source said.
Griffiths wants a deal on reopening Sanaa airport, shoring up the central bank and securing a truce in Hodeidah, the country’s main port. This could lead to a wider ceasefire to halt coalition air strikes and Houthi missile attacks on Saudi cities.
A UN source said that the two sides were still far from agreement on the three issues, especially on who should manage Hodeidah port and whether Houthis should leave the city.
The UN is trying to avert a full-scale assault on Hodeidah, the entry point for most of Yemen’s commercial goods and aid. Both sides have reinforced positions in the Red Sea city in sporadic battles after a de-escalation in November.