Hodeida’s shadow over Swe­den talks

GOV­ERN­MENT WANTS PEACE­FUL HANDOVER AS MILI­TIA CALLS FOR ‘NEU­TRAL’ PORT CITY

Gulf News - - Gulf / Region - BY RA­MADAN AL SHERBINI Cor­re­spon­dent

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.

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