Yemen Conflict: Houthis, Govt Officials Assemble in Sweden For First Direct Talks Since 2016

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Monitoring Desk:  Amid UN-backed negotiations between Yemen’s Houthi rebels and the internationally-recognised government triggered from last Thursday, representatives from both sides came face to face in first direct talks since 2016 in Sweden on Sunday.

UN Envoy Martin Griffiths and his team have so far shuttled between Houthi rebels and representatives of the Yemeni government, in Rimbo, north of Stockholm.

Sunday’s face-to-face talks were to focus on a prisoner swap deal, a member of the Yemeni government’s delegation told The National on the sidelines of the talks. He said a government committee dealing specifically with the issue is meeting with rebels.

The warring parties initially agreed to a prisoner exchange during the first day of talks, although they have yet to hammer out the logistics of the swap.

Sunday’s meeting marked the first direct talks between the rival forces since 2016.

“The committee of prisoner and detainee exchange will also meet with the Red Cross to discuss the logistics of the operation,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The UN envoy has outlined three initial objectives for talks in Sweden: securing confidence-building measures including a prisoner swap; the reopening of the airport in the capital, Sanaa; and securing UN administration of the strategic Red Sea port of Hodeidah, through which almost 80 per cent of international aid enters the country.

The reopening of the Sanaa airport and UN administration over Hodeidah have proven to be contentious. In comments to the press on Saturday, the rival delegations expressed divergent positions.

The consultations are expected to last until December 14, according to the government delegate, with both sides under pressure to agree on confidence-building measures that will allow formal peace negotiations to resume.

The government has set up six committees to address issues regarding the proposed prisoner exchange, the port of Hodeidah, Sanaa airport, the economy, lifting the siege of Taez, and the country’s humanitarian crisis.

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