Ye­men war­ring sides to free pris­on­ers

Business Day - - Front Page - Aziz El Yaakoubi Stock­holm

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.

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