Talks between Yemen’s government and Houthi insurgents focused on the country’s main airport and port went down to the wire yesterday with just hours left in negotiations.
Taiz, the southwestern city controlled by the government and surrounded by the rebels, is no longer under discussion at the talks, scheduled to close today.
The city has been the scene of some of the most intense fighting in a war that has pushed 14mn people to the brink of famine.
Intense talks, however, were continuing on Sanaa airport, shut down for years in the war between the Saudi-backed government and northern rebels linked to Iran.
Negotiators are also seeking a de-escalation of violence in rebel-held Hodeidah, a port city vital to the supply of humanitarian aid, and a co-operation deal on the country’s crumbling economy.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was due at the talks in Rimbo, Sweden, for today’s closing round of consultations.
His arrival comes hours after his office said it had evidence the rebel Houthis were using Iran-made missiles — a charge the Saudi-led alliance levels against the rebels as grounds for restrictions on the Hodeidah port and Sanaa airport.
Another round of talks has been tentatively scheduled for January, according to UN and Yemeni officials.
The Sweden talks, which opened last Thursday, mark the first meeting in two years between Yemen’s Houthi rebels and the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, backed since 2015 by a behemoth military coalition led by Saudi Arabia.
Both government and rebel representatives have traded accusations of unwillingness to negotiate, particularly on rebel-held Hodeidah, the main route for 90% of food imports and nearly 80% of aid deliveries. UN special envoy Martin Griffiths, had submitted a proposal on a political framework for the future of Yemen, an agreement on the reopening of Sanaa airport, a paper on addressing the economic situation and a draft agreement on Hodeidah, spokeswoman Hanan Badawi told reporters.
“The two parties have officially received the drafts and we are waiting on a response,” Badawi said.
Members of both delegations contacted by AFP said agreements could be signed by morning. Abdelmagid al-Hanash, a member of the Houthi delegation, said an agreement on Sanaa airport was close.
The government has proposed flights to and from the capital be searched in Sayoun or Aden, two cities under the control of the state.
“For now, the search will be in Aden but will not cause harm or trouble. No one will be asked to disembark,” Hanash said.
Yemeni ministers Othman Mujalli and Marwan Dammaj told reporters yesterday their camp would hold firm to UN Security Council Resolution 2216 — which calls for the Houthis to withdraw from all areas seized in a 2014 takeover, including Hodeidah.
Hanash said talks were ongoing. The rebels have thus far refused a full withdrawal.
The two camps signed a mass prisoner exchange deal at the Sweden talks, which two Yemeni government officials confirmed include Saudi soldiers fighting alongside state troops.
The Houthis had said Tuesday that the list included Saudi soldiers.
A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition and a UN official did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The prisoner swap includes the names of more than 15,000 detainees and disappeared persons taken on frontlines since 2015.
The deal will be overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which warns the exchange could take weeks.
The Yemen conflict has killed nearly 10,000 people since the Saudi-led coalition joined the war in 2015, according to the World Health Organization, triggering what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
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