Negotiators representing Yemen's internationally recognised government arrived in Sweden for UN-backed talks with Houthi rebels on Wednesday, marking the start of a new peace push that the government hopes will end a war that has brought economic ruin and famine to the country.
A rebel delegation is already at the conference venue north of Stockholm, having arrived on Tuesday. Talks are scheduled to start on Thursday.
The delegation representing the Yemeni government on Wednesday met with UN envoy Martin Griffiths' team. The envoy is scheduled to deliver a press conference on Thursday morning alongside Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom.
The tone from all sides appeared to be more positive than that during September's round of abortive talks in Geneva, which failed to even bring the Houthis to the table.
If the warring parties meet, it would be the first time since 2016 that the team representing the internationally recognised Yemeni government would engage in UN-backed talks with Houthi rebels.
This time, a willingness to carry out confidence-building measures, which included a prisoner swap and flying rebel fighters to Oman for treatment, helped Mr Griffiths bring the two sides together.
Editorial: Yemen breakthrough looks closer than ever
Security around the Johannesbergs castle- where the talks are set to take place- has been tight. Four police cars have surrounded the palace since Wednesday morning.
Two fire brigades with over 10 firefighters were ushered into the parking of the castle.
A police officer told The National that the situation is a “standard security procedure”.
The British Ambassador to Yemen, Michael Aron, confirmed that the talks will take place on Thursday.
“The delegation of the Yemeni government will reach today, and the talks will start tomorrow in Johannesbergs Castle,” Mr Aron said.
Abdullah Al Alimi, head of Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi’s office and member of the government's team, said they wanted to end the civil war.
“The delegation will leave today carrying the hopes of the Yemeni people for sustainable peace,” he said. “We want peace to prevail, to end the war and eliminate all causes that led to the coup.”
Mr Hadi intends to focus on alleviating the suffering of Yemeni civilians in the coming talks but blamed the Houthis for the country's devastation, according to Mr Al Alimi.
The US urged both sides to engage in the talks and to halt the fighting which flared up in recent weeks, a reference to clashes along Yemen's west coast and around the port city of Hodeidah.
“The people of Yemen have suffered far too long. The parties owe it to their fellow Yemenis to seize this opportunity... We have no illusions that this process will be easy, but we welcome this necessary and vital first step,” Heather Nauert, US State Department spokeswoman, said.
Both sides in the conflict have come under growing pressure from the US, along with the UK and the UN, to end the war which has claimed more than 10,000 lives and placed millions more in danger of starvation.
Meanwhile, the Emirati Red Crescent announced a project to support the creation of jobs for 1,000 families of those killed and wounded in the war.
"The ERC has been intensifying its humanitarian interventions in Yemen, and later on it started to expand its humanitarian aid by focusing on sustainable development for the people who are in need for such rewarding projects to help them make a living,” said the Emirati ambassador in Yemen, Salem Al Ghafli.
The world’s worst humanitarian crisis is in Yemen, where the government and a Saudi-led coalition have been locked in a largely stalemated war with the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels since March 2015. The fighting has claimed tens of thousands of lives and pushed the country to the brink of famine.
Iran on Monday said it backs the UN-sponsored peace talks. “Tehran is ready to help international talks to end the crisis and underlines the importance of accelerating providing humanitarian aid to the people," Iran's Foreign Ministry said in a statement