PARIS, Dec 6, (Agencies): The Special Envoy of the Secretary- General (SESG) for Yemen Martin Griffiths has expressed gratitude for Sweden and Kuwait for hosting and facilitating intra-Yemeni talks.
The special envoy extends his appreciation to the Government of Sweden for hosting the political consultations and the Government of Kuwait for facilitating the travel of the Sana’a delegation to the consultations, Griffiths wrote on his official twitter account Wednesday. The Yemeni talks kicked off in Stockholm on Thursday.
The Houthi rebels’ delegation to the talks arrived in Stockholm Tuesday on board a plane sent by Kuwait to transport them. They were also accompanied by Kuwait’s Ambassador to Yemen Fahad Al-Meie. Representatives from Yemen’s warring sides sat in the same room for the first time in years on Thursday in Sweden as UN-sponsored peace talks aimed at halting a catastrophic three-year war opened to great hopes but also high skepticism.
In a positive sign, the UN envoy said the sides had agreed on a prisoner exchange as a first step toward building confidence. Martin Griffiths also said the two sides have signaled they were serious about de-escalating the fighting through calls they’ve made in recent weeks, and urged them to work to further reduce the violence in the Arab world’s poorest nation, scene of massive civilians suffering.
The talks in the Swedish town of Rimbo, north of Stockholm, aim to setup “a framework for negotiations” on a future peace agreement, Griffiths said, calling the coming days were a milestone nonetheless and urging the parties “to work in good faith … to deliver a message of peace.” “I’m also pleased to announce the signing of an agreement on the exchange of prisoners, detainees, the missing, the forcibly detained and individuals placed under house arrest,” Griffiths said from the venue. “It will allow thousands of families to be reunited, and it is product of very effective, active work from both delegations.”
The fighting in Yemen has generated the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and claimed at least 10,000 lives, with experts estimating a much higher toll. The conflict pits the internationally recognized government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition, against Shiite rebels, known as Houthis. During the three-year war, Saudi-led airstrikes have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties, and the Houthis have fired longrange missiles into Saudi Arabia and targeted vessels in the Red Sea.
UN officials, however, have sought to downplay expectations from the talks, saying they don’t expect rapid progress toward a political settlement but hope for at least minor steps that would help to address Yemen’s worsening humanitarian crisis. Yemeni voices from both sides continued to make some last-minute demands and accusatory finger-pointing, while minor fighting continued to some extent on the ground.
Griffiths said the talks would address several main points mentioned by both sides: prisoner exchange, the release of funds to the central bank to pay civil servants in rebel-controlled territory, a possible handover of the port city of Hodeida to the UN, and the reopening of the blockaded airport in the capital, Sanaa, to aid deliveries.