Yemen government heads to Sweden for peace talks

Reuters, STOCKHOLM and ADEN, Yemen

Thu, Dec 06, 2018 - Page 1

A delegation from Yemen’s Saudi Arabian-backed government yesterday left for Sweden to attend peace talks with members of the Iran-aligned Houthi group, in a renewed UN push to end a war that has brought economic ruin and famine.

One representative of the internationally recognized government, Abdullah al-Alimi, said on Twitter that the talks were “a true opportunity for peace” before his delegation flew out of the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — leaders of a Western-backed coalition battling the Houthis to restore Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government — want to exit a war that has dragged on for four years.

The conflict is seen as a proxy war between Sunni Muslim power Riyadh and Shiite Tehran.

Seeking to reinvigorate peace efforts, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths secured some confidence-building measures, including the evacuation of Houthi wounded, to help persuade the movement to attend the talks in Sweden.

The Houthi delegation arrived there on Tuesday, having failed to turn up for talks in Geneva, Switzerland, in September.

The latest round, to be held in a renovated castle outside Stockholm, is to focus on agreeing to other confidence-building steps and the formation of a transitional governing body.

It was not clear if the warring parties would hold direct talks or if Griffiths would shuttle between the two sides.

The UN envoy is seeking agreement on reopening Sana’a International Airport, swapping prisoners and securing a truce in the Houthi-held port of Hodeidah, now a focus of the war. This could lead to a wider ceasefire that would halt coalition airstrikes and Houthi missile attacks on Saudi Arabian cities.

The US is trying to avert a full-scale assault on Hodeidah, the entry point for most of Yemen’s commercial goods and aid. Both sides have reinforced positions in the Red Sea city in sporadic battles after a de-escalation last month.

International outrage over the Oct. 2 murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, has refocused attention on Saudi Arabia’s activities in the region.

The US Senate was set to consider a resolution to end support for the coalition in the war.