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Yemeni rebels head to Sweden for peace talks

December 05, 2018

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Sanaa: Abdul Majid Hanash, a member of the Houthi delegation participating in the negotiations in Sweden, speaks to the media before his departure from Sanaa airport on Tuesday.—Reuters
Sanaa: Abdul Majid Hanash, a member of the Houthi delegation participating in the negotiations in Sweden, speaks to the media before his departure from Sanaa airport on Tuesday.—Reuters

SANAA: A rebel delegation flew out of the Yemeni capital on Tuesday accompanied by a UN peace envoy, heading for high-stakes talks in Sweden with the government aimed at ending the country’s devastating war.

The departure of the Houthi insurgents on a Kuwaiti plane followed a prisoner swap deal and the evacuation of 50 wounded rebels for treatment in Oman in a major boost to peace efforts.

The delegation for the first peace talks since 2016 was accompanied by UN envoy Martin Griffiths, an airport source said.

A government team, headed by Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, was expected in Sweden on Wednesday.

Mohammed Abdelsalam, heading the 12-member rebel team, tweeted that the Houthis “will spare no effort to make a success of the talks to restore peace and end the aggression”.

At the same time he called on rebel fighters to remain “vigilant against any attempt at a military escalation on the ground”.

Although no date has been announced for the start of the talks, Yemeni government sources say they could get under way on Thursday.

The agreement to exchange hundreds of detainees was welcomed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which will oversee the swap after the first round of planned peace talks in Sweden.

“This is one step in the right direction towards the building of mutual trust among Yemeni communities,” ICRC spokeswoman Mirella Hodeib said.

The deal was struck by Griffiths, who was in the rebel-held capital Sanaa for meetings already buoyed by the evacuation of the wounded insurgents — a key rebel precondition for the talks.

A previous UN-brokered attempt to bring the Houthis and the Saudi-backed government to the negotiating table collapsed in Switzerland in September.

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

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2018

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