‘Hopeful start’ made to Yemen peace talks
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.