Friday 18 January 2019

First direct Yemen talks bid to strike deal to swap prisoners

The president of Yemen, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Photo: AP
The president of Yemen, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Photo: AP

Aziz El Yaakoubi

Yemen's warring parties held the first direct talks in UN-led peace efforts in Sweden yesterday to iron out a prisoner swap, one of several confidence-building measures intended to help launch a political process to end nearly four years of conflict.

Since talks began last Thursday, UN officials have been shuttling between delegations from the Iranian-aligned Houthi group and the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition.

The first negotiations in over two years were convened amid pressure from Western nations, some of which supply arms and intelligence to Saudi Arabia and other members of the coalition. The war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands of people and caused a major humanitarian disaster.

Mediator Martin Griffiths opened the new round due to last until Thursday by announcing a deal to release thousands of prisoners.

The team from Mr Hadi's government initially refused to enter the room, saying the Houthis needed to include more senior delegates, but the meeting went ahead, delegates said.

"We are very optimistic about having a breakthrough on the prisoners issue. We have exchanged some lists in the past but each side needs to update them," said Askar Ahmed Zayl, a delegate from Mr Hadi's government.

Positives

The parties have yet to agree on trickier issues such as reopening Sanaa airport and a truce in the port city of Hodeidah, both held by the Houthis, both further confidence-building measures that are the focus of the talks.

"We have three or four days. If we end up without any agreement then this round has failed," the Houthi's main negotiator Mohammed Abdusalam said. "But if we have a draft on some general framework, the reopening of Sanaa airport, the prisoners release, keeping the central bank neutral and a de-escalation in Hodeidah; then this will be a good step to hold another round in one or two months."

Mr Griffiths praised the parties' "positive spirit" in engaging constructively and urged for calm on the ground in Yemen, where sporadic battles have continued in the Red Sea port of Hodeidah and other parts of the country.

Irish Independent

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