Yemen Peace Talks To Begin Today In Sweden, Says UN

Lester Mason
December 8, 2018

Yemen's government and Huthi rebels began talks in Sweden on Thursday aimed at ending almost four years of war that have pushed the impoverished Arab country to the brink of mass starvation.

Margot Wallstrom opened the talks on Thursday in Rimbo, a town north of Stockholm, where representatives from Yemen's internationally recognized government and the Shiite Houthi rebels sat across from each other.

The U.N. envoy for Yemen says the country's warring sides have agreed on a prisoner exchange as part of confidence building measures for the war-torn nation.

While the days leading up to the talks looked promising, with the government and rebels agreeing on a prisoner swap deal and the evacuation of wounded insurgents for medical treatment in Oman, the atmosphere between the two sides was tense as the talks opened. At least 5,000 prisoners are to come, according to the International Committee of the Red cross.

Hodeidah is on the agenda at the talks, slated to run for one week.

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 almost 30-million inhabitants.

Both the internationally recognized government, which is backed by the USA -sponsored Saudi-led coalition, and the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels say they are striving for peace. The country serves as the operational base for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, dubbed the "most dangerous" terrorist group before the rise of the "Islamic State".

The fighting in Yemen has generated the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Warring sides agree to release prisoners as Yemen peace talks begin

But one of the main hurdles will be the port city of Hodeida, where almost all food and humanitarian aid deliveries are made. The Yemeni government is demanding the rebels withdraw.

World Food Program spokesman Herve Verhoosel said the "ambitious undertaking" finalizes plans in the works in recent months to reach 12 million people with food and nutritional supplements through January, up from between 7-8 million now.

The Houthi delegation arrived in Stockholm late Tuesday, accompanied by Griffiths.

The cycle of violence widened to include shelling and looting of a number of civilian houses in the directorate of al-Tahita in an escalation seen as a push by the Houthis to put the legitimate government and the Arab coalition in a hard position in front of the worldwide community which is pressing to end the war in Yemen.

The target population includes some 3 million women and children who need special support to prevent malnutrition.

Twenty million people, or 70 percent, of Yemenis are "food insecure", U.N Humanitarian Coordinator Lisa Grande said, meaning they do not have reliable access to sufficient amounts of nutritious food. Verhoosel said the rollout will require "safe, immediate and unimpeded access for food and other vital supplies".

In Sweden earlier, Yemen's foreign minister called for the withdrawal of the Huthis from Hodeida, a demand rejected by the rebels.

Griffiths joined her at the presser and said that the talks represented "a milestone". "You have the command of your future".

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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