Yemen consultations in Riyadh could pave the way for peace, officials say

Participation of Houthi rebels in GCC-sponsored talks is uncertain

UN special envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg will start talks to end the country's civil war in Riyadh on Wednesday.  AFP
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It remains unclear if Yemen's Houthi rebels plan to attend this week's talks on how to end more than seven years of civil war as officials confirmed parties would gather in Riyadh on Wednesday.

The Iran-backed rebels have already demanded that talks be moved to a natural country rather than holding them in Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition supporting Yemen's internationally recognised government.

The discussions will be under the auspices of the Gulf Co-Operation Council, and several Yemeni political parties and civil society members will attend.

A senior UN official told The National that Hans Grundberg, the UN's special envoy to Yemen, will open the consultations in Riyadh in hope of building toward a comprehensive political settlement.

The rebels launched a barrage of armed drones and missiles at Saudi Arabia on Friday, setting fire to an oil depot in Jeddah as the city hosted a Formula One race.

The following day, the rebels offered a three-day truce.

The coalition responded to the attack with air strikes on Yemen's capital, Sanaa, and the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, both held by the rebels.

A senior GCC official told The National that it remains unclear whether rebel representatives will show up.

“In either case, the consultations will be between Yemenis themselves to discuss the resumption of UN-led political talks,” he said.

“We have said and will say again that the solution to ending the war will have to come from the Yemenis,” he said.

The focus will be on six factors, including the military and security issues and the implementation of a ceasefire for the holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to begin this week.

The political process will also be high on the agenda, along with the strengthening of state institutions, administrative reforms and combating corruption.

Mr Grundberg “is engaging with all sides and continues his efforts towards a truce during Ramadan”, his office said.

“He reiterates his call for de-escalation and welcomes all steps by the parties in that direction,” it said.

Prisoner swap talks

Discussions between members of the government and Houthi rebels have been going on for some time, although not at an official level.

The rebels said at the weekend that a prisoner swap deal was reached that would free hundreds of detainees, including 16 Saudis and a brother of Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi.

However, the UN official and members of the government denied this.

“If a deal is reached we will communicate about it,” the UN official told The National.

“We would like to make it clear that a final agreement has not been reached,” Hadi Haig, the head of the government's prisoner swap committee, said.

“Once we have reached a conclusion, the UN envoy's official will make an official announcement,” he said on Twitter.

A Yemeni government official told The National that the release of Mr Hadi's brother and the former defence minister Mahmoud Al Subaihi would be a big step towards ending the war.

“It would enable us to reach a political settlement with the Houthis – we want to make peace and end this war and the suffering of the people,” the official said.

Updated: March 28, 2022, 7:14 PM