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Yemen war rivals double down as UN talks open

Top News2018-12-07

Yemen's government and rebels, locked in a devastating war, traded accusations Thursday as they sat down for hard-won talks the United Nations described as "difficult" but "critical".The talks in Sweden are the first in two years in a conflict that has pushed impoverished Yemen to the brink of mass starvation.UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the warring parties not to impose pre-conditions after both sides put forward demands.Guterres called on both parties to make progress "by exercising flexibility and engaging in good faith and without pre-conditions", said a UN statement.While the days leading up to the talks saw the government and rebels agreeing on a prisoner swap deal and the evacuation of wounded insurgents for medical treatment in Oman, the atmosphere was tense as the talks opened.Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, who heads the Saudi-backed government's delegation to the UN-sponsored talks, told AFP his team would deliver on a planned prisoner swap with the Huthi rebels.But he refused to compromise on the flashpoint city of Hodeida, home to Yemen's most valuable port."The Huthi militias must withdraw from the city of Hodeida and its port and hand it over to the legitimate government, and specifically internal security forces," Yamani said.Hamid Issam, a member of the team of Iran-backed Huthi rebels in Sweden, dismissed Yamani's role in the talks altogether."We came here with the intention that these talks would succeed," Issam told AFP."But it is not up to Khaled al-Yamani... It is up to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.AFP / Fabrice COFFRINI Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani said the government would not compromise on the flashpoint port city of Hodeida, home to Yemen's most valuable port"If they could have taken Hodeida four years ago, they would have. They have not been able to take it, and they will not be able to take it as long as the people of Yemen are fighting."AS the talks started, a World Food Programme official warned even halting the war would not end hunger in Yemen.The talks, in the picturesque Swedish village of Rimbo north of Stockholm, where the two sides have to eat in the same cafeteria, have been months in the making. They are slated to run for one week.'Critical opportunity' AFP / Valentina Breschi Conflict in YemenOn the agenda is Hodeida.Not on the table are talks on a solution to the conflict between the government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, based in southern Yemen, and the northern Huthi rebels, according to UN special envoy Martin Griffiths.The Saudi-led military coalition, which includes troops trained by the US and UAE, has for months led an offensive to retake Hodeida. It is the last rebel stronghold on Yemen's Red Sea coast and the conduit for 90 percent of vital food imports.The battle has sparked fears for more than 150,000 civilians trapped in the city.Saudi Arabia and its allies accuse the rebels of smuggling arms from Iran through Hodeida, a charge Tehran denies.More than three years since Saudi Arabia and its allies joined President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's fight against the Huthis, Yemen is now home to what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis. It says 14 million people face starvation.TT News Agency/AFP / Stina STJERNKVIST The talks are being held in the picturesque Swedish village of Rimbo, some 60 kilometres north of StockholmGriffiths said the talks presented a "critical opportunity". But they do not amount to negotiations on a full end to the conflict between the Iran-backed Huthi rebels and a rival government alliance led by Saudi Arabia, he added.Speaking on condition of anonymity, one UN official said the talks marked "the beginning of difficult work".'Humanitarian pipeline'AFP / - Some 14 million people are at imminent risk of starvation in Yemen, according to UN estimates"We'd like to take Hodeida out of the conflict because ... it's the humanitarian pipeline to the rest of the country," said UN envoy Griffiths."We would like to see that airport open, but it needs to be assessed. We'd like to see progress on this."The Saudi-led coalition has rejected that offer unless the rebels withdraw completely from Yemen's western coastline.And the head of the Huthis' political council, Mohammed Ali Huthi, threatened Thursday to bar UN planes from using the Yemeni capital's airport and keep it closed unless the talks led to its full reopening.Sanaa international airport, in the rebel-held capital, has been largely shut down for years. It has been the target of air raids by the Saudi-led coalition, which also controls Yemeni airspace.International pressure to end the conflict has been ratcheted up in recent weeks, after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, focussed attention on Saudi Arabia's foreign policy.Griffiths' plans to host talks in Geneva in September collapsed on the opening day after the rebels refused to leave the Yemeni capital in case they were not allowed to return.(AFP)

Yemen's government and rebels, locked in a devastating war, traded accusations Thursday as they sat down for hard-won talks the United Nations described as "difficult" but "critical".

The talks in Sweden are the first in two years in a conflict that has pushed impoverished Yemen to the brink of mass starvation.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the warring parties not to impose pre-conditions after both sides put forward demands.

Guterres called on both parties to make progress "by exercising flexibility and engaging in good faith and without pre-conditions", said a UN statement.

While the days leading up to the talks saw the government and rebels agreeing on a prisoner swap deal and the evacuation of wounded insurgents for medical treatment in Oman, the atmosphere was tense as the talks opened.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, who heads the Saudi-backed government's delegation to the UN-sponsored talks, told AFP his team would deliver on a planned prisoner swap with the Huthi rebels.

But he refused to compromise on the flashpoint city of Hodeida, home to Yemen's most valuable port.

"The Huthi militias must withdraw from the city of Hodeida and its port and hand it over to the legitimate government, and specifically internal security forces," Yamani said.

Hamid Issam, a member of the team of Iran-backed Huthi rebels in Sweden, dismissed Yamani's role in the talks altogether.

"We came here with the intention that these talks would succeed," Issam told AFP.

"But it is not up to Khaled al-Yamani... It is up to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

AFP / Fabrice COFFRINI Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani said the government would not compromise on the flashpoint port city of Hodeida, home to Yemen's most valuable port

"If they could have taken Hodeida four years ago, they would have. They have not been able to take it, and they will not be able to take it as long as the people of Yemen are fighting."

AS the talks started, a World Food Programme official warned even halting the war would not end hunger in Yemen.

The talks, in the picturesque Swedish village of Rimbo north of Stockholm, where the two sides have to eat in the same cafeteria, have been months in the making. They are slated to run for one week.

'Critical opportunity' 

AFP / Valentina Breschi Conflict in Yemen

On the agenda is Hodeida.

Not on the table are talks on a solution to the conflict between the government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, based in southern Yemen, and the northern Huthi rebels, according to UN special envoy Martin Griffiths.

The Saudi-led military coalition, which includes troops trained by the US and UAE, has for months led an offensive to retake Hodeida. It is the last rebel stronghold on Yemen's Red Sea coast and the conduit for 90 percent of vital food imports.

The battle has sparked fears for more than 150,000 civilians trapped in the city.

Saudi Arabia and its allies accuse the rebels of smuggling arms from Iran through Hodeida, a charge Tehran denies.

More than three years since Saudi Arabia and its allies joined President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's fight against the Huthis, Yemen is now home to what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis. It says 14 million people face starvation.

TT News Agency/AFP / Stina STJERNKVIST The talks are being held in the picturesque Swedish village of Rimbo, some 60 kilometres north of Stockholm

Griffiths said the talks presented a "critical opportunity". But they do not amount to negotiations on a full end to the conflict between the Iran-backed Huthi rebels and a rival government alliance led by Saudi Arabia, he added.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one UN official said the talks marked "the beginning of difficult work".

'Humanitarian pipeline'

AFP / - Some 14 million people are at imminent risk of starvation in Yemen, according to UN estimates

"We'd like to take Hodeida out of the conflict because ... it's the humanitarian pipeline to the rest of the country," said UN envoy Griffiths.

"We would like to see that airport open, but it needs to be assessed. We'd like to see progress on this."

The Saudi-led coalition has rejected that offer unless the rebels withdraw completely from Yemen's western coastline.

And the head of the Huthis' political council, Mohammed Ali Huthi, threatened Thursday to bar UN planes from using the Yemeni capital's airport and keep it closed unless the talks led to its full reopening.

Sanaa international airport, in the rebel-held capital, has been largely shut down for years. It has been the target of air raids by the Saudi-led coalition, which also controls Yemeni airspace.

International pressure to end the conflict has been ratcheted up in recent weeks, after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, focussed attention on Saudi Arabia's foreign policy.

Griffiths' plans to host talks in Geneva in September collapsed on the opening day after the rebels refused to leave the Yemeni capital in case they were not allowed to return.

(AFP)

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