‘Hope­ful start’ made to Ye­men peace talks

Cape Times - - NATION -

YE­MEN’S war­ring sides agreed to free thou­sands of pris­on­ers yes­ter­day 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.

UN me­di­a­tor Mar­tin Grif­fiths told a news con­fer­ence out­side 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 Iran-aligned Houthi move­ment.

No talks have been held since 2016, and the last at­tempt in Geneva in Septem­ber failed when the Houthis did not at­tend.

Grif­fiths said the pris­oner swop agreed to at the start of the talks would re­unite thou­sands of fam­i­lies. The In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross said at least 5 000 pris­on­ers would be freed.

The war, widely seen across the re­gion as a proxy con­flict be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and Iran, has been stale­mated for years, threat­en­ing sup­ply lines to feed nearly 30 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants.

The Houthis con­trol the cap­i­tal Sana’a and most pop­u­lated ar­eas, while the ousted gov­ern­ment, based in the south­ern city of Aden, has strug­gled to ad­vance de­spite the aid of Arab states.

Hu­man­i­tar­ian suf­fer­ing in one of the world’s poor­est coun­tries 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 were 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.

The Swedish hosts called for con­struc­tive talks to end what For­eign Min­is­ter Mar­got Wall­strom called a “catas­tro­phe”.

Grif­fiths wants a deal on re­open­ing Sana’a air­port, shoring up the cen­tral bank and se­cur­ing a truce in Hodei­dah, the coun­try’s main port, which is held by the Houthis.

This could lead to a wider cease­fire to halt coali­tion air strikes that have killed thou­sands of civil­ians, and Houthi mis­sile at­tacks on Saudi cities.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.