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  • Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom welcomes Yemeni delegates at the opening press conference on U.N.-sponsored peace talk.

    Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom welcomes Yemeni delegates at the opening press conference on U.N.-sponsored peace talk. | Photo: Reuters

Published 6 December 2018

According to U.N. sources, the key points of a possible agreement will be reopening Sanaa airport and management of the Hodeidah port.

United Nations-mediated peace talks between representatives of Yemen's Houthi movement and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition begin Thursday in Sweden, opening up hopes to end the three year war on Yemen that has left over 50,000 deaths (not including starvation) and pushed millions of people on the verge of starvation.

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On Wednesday, Yemen's warring sides took a first step agreeing to free thousands of prisoners. U.N. mediator Martin Griffiths called it a hopeful start during a press confeence in Stockholm and stressed that just getting the two sides to the table was an important milestone.

The Saudi-led coalition, which intervened in 2015 to restore a government ousted by the Houthi movement has spawned what the U.N. calls the world's direst humanitarian crisis.

No talks have been held since 2016, and the last attempt in Geneva in September failed when the Houthis did not attend.

Griffiths said the prisoner swap agreed at the start of the talks would reunite thousands of families. The International Committee of the Red Cross said at least 5,000 would be freed.

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 nearly 30 million inhabitants.

The Houthis control the capital Sanaa and most populated areas, while the ousted government based in the southern city of Aden has struggled to advance despite the aid of Arab states.

Humanitarian suffering in one of the world's poorest countries has added to pressure on the parties to end the conflict, with faith in the Saudi-led war effort flagging among Western allies (United States, United Kingdom, France) that arm and support the coalition.

Diplomats are expected to shuttle between the warring parties to discuss other confidence-building steps and the formation of a transitional governing body, a U.N. source said.

The Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom called for constructive talks to end a "catastrophe."

Griffiths wants a deal on reopening Sanaa airport , shoring up the central bank and securing a truce in Hodeidah, the country's main port, held by the Houthis and a focus of the war after the coalition launched a campaign to capture it this year.

This could lead to a wider ceasefire to halt coalition air strikes that have killed thousands of civilians, and Houthi missile attacks on Saudi cities.

A U.N. source said that the two sides were still far from agreement on the three issues, especially on who should manage Hodeidah port and whether the Houthis should entirely quit the city. "Hodeidah is very complex," the source said.

The U.N. is trying to avert a full-scale assault on Hodeidah, the entry point for most of Yemen's commercial goods and aid.

The other main route in and out of Houthi territory is the Sanaa airport, but access is restricted by the Saudi-led coalition which controls the airspace.

The head of the Houthis' Supreme Revolutionary Committee, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, said in a Twitter post that if no deal is reached to re-open the airport, the movement could close it on the ground to all traffic including U.N. flights.


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