Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Prisoner swap deal gives new boost to Yemen talks push

Wounded Yemeni rebels await their evacuation to the Omani capital Muscat at the Sanaa International Yemen peace talks in Sweden a ‘vital first step’ says Washington
Melinda Barton | 05 December, 2018, 18:41

The negotiations are expected to discuss the opening of Sana'a airport, which has been closed for commercial flights since August 2016 due to restrictions imposed by the Saudi-led coalition.

Yemeni sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that a delegation representing the legitimate government would only travel to Sweden after making sure that a Houthi delegation touches foot in the European country, where peace talks are not expected before Thursday.

"The Houthi delegation, along with Mr Griffiths, have officially arrived on Tuesday night to Sweden".

On Monday, the Arab coalition allowed the evacuation of 50 injured Houthi fighters to fly to Oman for treatment.

The deal covers between 1,500 and 2,000 members of the pro-government forces and between 1,000 and 1,500 rebels, government official Hadi Haig said.

He added: "In implementation of the directives of the President of the Republic of Yemen, the government's delegation will put the concerns and aspirations of the Yemeni people at the top of its priorities and will make every effort to ensure the success of the consultations, which we consider a real opportunity for peace".

The UN envoy arrived in Sana'a on Monday in a bid to pave the way for peace talks, which come after almost four years of war that have led to displacement, food insecurity, outbreaks of cholera and diphtheria across the country.

The UN envoy said on Monday that he was "pleased to confirm" the evacuation and "urged all Yemenis to work together in pursuit of peace".

"The country with the biggest problem in 2019 is going to be Yemen", OCHA chief Mark Lowcock told reporters in Geneva.

If the negotiations in Sweden show results, "it is possible that we could find by the second half of the year that the extreme edge could get taken off the suffering of those people who have no form of income", he said.

Worldwide support for the new peace bid has been spurred by United Nations warnings that 15 million Yemenis are at risk of starvation as the already dire humanitarian situation in the war-torn country deteriorates.

The arrival was confirmed by Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom on Twitter.

The coalition, which has previously called on the Houthis to entirely quit Hodeidah, last month renewed an offensive on the city to weaken the movement by severing their main supply line. "A stable state, important for the region, can not coexist with unlawful militias", Gargash said, as reported by Reuters.

The conflict began with the Houthi takeover of the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen in 2014.

"UN Security Council Resolution 2216 offers a workable roadmap".

The alliance intervened in the war in 2015 to restore the internationally recognized government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi but has faced military stalemate, despite superior air power, since seizing the southern port city of Aden that year.

The demands are unacceptable to the rebels and subsequent worldwide peace efforts, including three months of negotiations in Kuwait that broke down in 2016, have focused on a power-sharing government and a federal political system.