Monday, 10 December, 2018

Yemen's Houthis en route to Sweden for United Nations peace talks

Yemen war: Wounded Houthis rebels to be evacuated Sweden set to host Yemen peace talks as coalition agrees Houthi wounded evacuation
Steven Clarke | 06 December, 2018, 13:45

The war and failing economy have pushed 14 million people, roughly half of Yemen's population, to the brink of starvation.

Representatives of the Houthi rebels, who control about a third of the country, including the capital, Sanaa, and the port city of Hodeidah, arrived in Stockholm last night after being personally escorted out of the country by the UN's special envoy, Martin Griffith.

Wounded Houthi fighters wait at Sanaa airport during his evacuation from Yemen December 3, 2018.

Iran offered support on Monday to the planned UN-brokered peace talks on Yemen, calling for an end to "the brutal aggression" on the country.

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

The peace talks may start on Wednesday, two sources familiar with the matter said. Previous talks in September collapsed when the Houthis failed to show up.

Western powers, which provide arms and intelligence to the coalition, may have greater leverage to demand action on Yemen after outrage over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Riyadh's consulate in Istanbul increased scrutiny of the kingdom's activities in the region.

Alarmed by the rise of a group they saw as an Iranian proxy, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and seven other Arab states intervened in an attempt to restore the government.

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Griffiths was in Sanaa earlier this week to meet with Houthi rebel leaders, and he then travelled to Sweden with a Houthi delegation on Tuesday.

The agreement, struck by the United Nations envoy in weeks of shuttle diplomacy, came after the wounded Houthis were flown out for treatment on Monday, meeting a key Houthi precondition for joining the talks.

British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt tweeted that the evacuation as a "positive 1st step" ahead of the talks. Iran said it was ready to cooperate with the worldwide community to resolve the crisis.

In recent days, Griffiths has held talks separately with officials from both warring parties as part of efforts to lay the groundwork for talks in Sweden.

"Neither side wishes to be blamed for the dire consequences of the looming starvation, which is starting to become a reality", said Elisabeth Kendall, a senior research fellow in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Oxford University. Three-quarters of impoverished Yemen's population, or 22 million people, require aid.

A coalition-backed government offensive on the rebel-held Red Sea port of Hodeida has threatened to cut virtually the only gateway for UN-supervised aid.

This would serve as a foundation for a wider ceasefire that would halt coalition air strikes and Houthi missile attacks on Saudi cities.

At least 6,660 civilians have been killed and 10,560 injured in the fighting, according to the United Nations.

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