Yemen's Houthi rebels head to Sweden for expected peace talks

Cheryl Sanders
December 5, 2018

Yemen's Foreign Minister, Khaled al-Yamani, said on Tuesday that his government had "come to an agreement" with the Houthis after spending the "past eight to nine months locked in negotiations".

U.N. Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths has been conducting intensive rounds of shuttle diplomacy to persuade the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed government of Yemeni president Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi to meet for serious negotiations in a bid to wind down the brutal war that has killed tens of thousands, collapsed the economy and left millions on the brink of starvation.

"We have no illusions that this process will be easy, but we welcome this necessary and vital first step", she said in a statement.

The United Arab Emirates, another key backer of the beleaguered government, said the planned talks offered a "critical opportunity" to end almost four years of war.

Hadi Haig, a government official, told the AFP news agency that the deal covered between 1,500 and 2,000 pro-government forces and between 1,000 and 1,500 Houthi rebels.

The talks could start on Wednesday, two sources familiar with the matter said, after United Nations special envoy Martin Griffiths shuttled between the parties to salvage a previous round that collapsed in September after the Houthis failed to show up.

The head of the 12-member rebel delegation, Mohammed Abdelsalam, said it would "spare no effort to make a success of the talks to restore peace and end the aggression".

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.

"This is one step in the right direction towards the building of mutual trust among Yemeni communities", ICRC spokeswoman Mirella Hodeib said. Overall, 24 million people in Yemen - roughly 75 per cent of the population - will need humanitarian assistance in 2019.

Prospects for convening talks have increased as Western allies press Saudi Arabia, leader of the Sunni Muslim alliance battling the Iranian-aligned Houthis, over a war that has killed more than 10,000 people and pushed Yemen to the brink of starvation.

The nearly four years of the Yemeni war have killed more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, displaced 3 million others, and pushed the country to the brink of starvation. "This is a country that is in a catastrophe", said World Food Programme chief David Beasley.

Griffiths arrived in Sana'a, the Houthi-run Yemeni capital, on Monday to escort the Houthi delegation to the planned discussions.

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.

But fresh fighting flared on Monday and the coalition spokesman said military operations were "ongoing".

Outrage over the October 2 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has intensified global scrutiny of Saudi activities in the region, potentially giving Western powers, which provide arms and intelligence to the coalition, more leverage to demand action.

Other reports by iNewsToday