Hodeida’s shadow over Sweden talks
GOVERNMENT WANTS PEACEFUL HANDOVER AS MILITIA CALLS FOR ‘NEUTRAL’ PORT CITY
Astandoff over Yemen’s coastal city of Hodeida yesterday cast a shadow over the third day of UNsponsored talks in Sweden aimed at ending the country’s devastating war of more than three years.
Hodeida in west Yemen has been under the control of the Iran-allied Al Houthi militia since October 2014, a month after they toppled the internationally recognised government and seized the capital Sana’a.
Representatives of the Saudi-backed government at the current talks called on Al Houthis to peacefully withdraw from Hodeida and its crucial port or face military action, Al Arabiya reported.
Yemen’s Foreign Minister Khalid Al Yamani yesterday said Hodeida must be handed over to the government. Rebel chief delegate Mohammad Abdul Salam told Reuters Hodeida should be declared a “neutral zone”.
Weeks before the Sweden talks, government forces — supported by an Arab military alliance — pushed deep into Hodeida and later halted the offensive in a gesture of support for UN efforts to restart the long-stalled peacemaking.
Most imports and humanitarian aid to Yemen pass through the Hodeida port.
Abdul Salam also told Reuters a political solution to Yemen’s war should include a transitional period with a precise time frame, and that his group is open to a UN role in operating Sana’a airport, now under militia control.
The government has offered to reopen the airport to commercial flights, but demanded that they should be limited to domestic flights, given concerns that Al Houthis may use the airport to smuggle weapons from their Iranian patrons.
“Until now, Al Houthis have not responded to our conditions for opening Sana’a airport,” Hamza Al Kamali, a member of the government team, told Al Arabiya. “Consultations can fail if Al Houthi delegation continues to deviate from the agenda,” he warned.
Aden to be main airport
Meanwhile, Al Yamani said the government-controlled city of Aden will be home to the country’s main airport. “We are ready to reopen Sana’a international airport today ... but we have a vision that Aden will be the sovereign airport of Yemen,” he said.
The Al Houthi delegation said talks have been divided into five main sections, including a political framework and the opening of Sana’a airport for aid, AP reported.
The talks, the first between Yemen’s warring sides in more than two years, started Thursday with an agreement on prisoner swap, increasing hopes that the indirect negotiations could halt the threeyear conflict.