UN-led Yemen peace talks to start in Sweden this week

Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths aims to get both sides to agree to UN-led negotiations to end the war

FILE PHOTO: UN envoy Martin Griffiths attends a news conference ahead of Yemen talks at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland September 5, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
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After previous false starts and amid mounting international pressure, the warring sides in Yemen's civil war are expected to meet for peace negotiations in Sweden later this week.

Houthi rebels have fought the internationally recognised capital for the past three years in a war that has left the economy in ruins and half the population dependent on humanitarian aid.

In recent months the United Nations, the United States and the United Kingdom have increased pressure on the two sides to pursue a negotiated end to the conflict, while observers warn that a diplomatic solution is the only way to avert a man-made famine.

UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths has been engaged in shuttle diplomacy for months, talking to the government and the rebels who control the capital Sanaa.

After Mr Griffiths announced last month that the warring parties had agreed to attend talks, the international community threw its support behind the initiative. The UAE's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed said he hopes the upcoming talks would be a first step towards a political solution.

Previous talks planned for September in Geneva failed to get underway after the Houthi delegation didn't leave Sanaa. The rebels had pushed for the evacuations of wounded fighters to Oman for treatment, and argued that the United Nations could not guarantee the delegation's safe return.

The current diplomatic initiative is being pushed amid a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation but also comes as the war’s front-lines have experienced a fragile de-escalation.

Mr Griffiths is expected to travel with the Houthi delegation from Sanaa on Monday, in an effort to preempt another premature collapse of talks, diplomatic sources told The National.

The UN envoy is planning to steer the new talks towards confidence-building measures such as unifying Yemen’s central bank and arranging prisoner swaps.

If the Houthi delegation makes it to Sweden, Mr Griffiths aims to get both sides to agree to a framework that “establishes the principles and parameters for UN-led, inclusive Yemeni negotiations to end the war, and restart a political transition," a statement from his office said.

Some of the dynamics around the upcoming talks are different from in September, said Elizabeth Dickenson, a senior analyst at the conflict monitoring organisation International Crisis Group.

“First, US engagement is more directed. We now see the [US] state and defence departments are pushing for talks in alignment with one another. The UAE and Saudi support is also very important. This puts the onus directly on the parties themselves – the Houthis and the government of Yemen – to come to the table in a serious way,” Ms Dickenson said.

Washington has recently shown an increased interest in ending the war in Yemen. In October, Pentagon chief James Mattis said that talks must happen by end of November.

"We have got to move toward a peace effort here, and we can't say we are going to do it sometime in the future," Mr Mattis said at the US Institute of Peace in Washington.

Warring parties must “meet in Sweden in November and come to a solution, not talk about subordinate issues,” he said.

The time frame was later extended to the end of this year.

The UN has previously sponsored a series of peace talks, the first being held in Geneva in 2015.

Those talks collapsed after a month with each side accusing the other of breaching a truce.

A fresh round was scheduled in April 2016 in Kuwait, where the UN brought together a rebel’s delegation and Yemen’s General People’s Congress allied with the Saudi-backed government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi.

The talks were suspended after the rebels captured a military base north of Sanaa and refused to withdraw from captured cities and to hand over their arms.

Those negotiations finally collapsed when the Yemeni government walked out that August after the rebels rejected a UN-proposed plan calling on the group to withdraw from three main cities including Sanaa, ahead of talks to form a government that would include the Houthis.

No UN-led talks were held in 2017.

Nearly 10,000 people have been killed since the Arab coalition joined the conflict at the request of President Hadi in 2015.


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