The United Nations proposed at initial talks between Yemen's warring parties Tuesday that they withdraw from the contested port city of Hodeida, a lifeline for millions facing famine, and place it under the control of an interim entity.
It was not clear if the Iran-aligned Houthi movement and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government would accept the proposal made at peace talks in Sweden that aim to avert a full-scale assault on Hodeida, now a focus of the nearly 4-year-old war.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres is set to travel to Sweden to support his Yemen special envoy's efforts before the current talks conclude Thursday, sources said. Another round could be held in 2019.
After the two sides agreed to exchange 15,000 prisoners, the consultations revolve around thornier issues such as the status of Hodeida and the reopening of Sanaa airport.
The Houthis control most population centers in Yemen, including Hodeida - with coalition forces massed on its outskirts - and the capital Sanaa, from which the group ousted the government of Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi in 2014.
Three sources familiar with the talks told Reuters that the proposal presented by U.N. mediator Martin Griffiths envisions a "joint committee or independent entity" be set up to manage the city and port after both sides withdraw. U.N. monitors could be deployed in Hodeida, they said, adding that talks were continuing.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Khalid al-Yamani, who is heading the internationally-recognized government's delegation to the peace talks, said Monday Hodeida should be placed under Interior Ministry control as a matter of sovereignty.
Both parties have agreed to a U.N. role in the Red Sea port, the entry point for most of Yemen's commercial goods and vital aid, but differ on who should run the city itself. The Houthis say Hodeida should be declared a neutral zone.Ambassadors of the five permanent member states of the U.N. Security Council are present at the talks and were pressing the parties to agree to the Hodeida proposal, the sources said.
A source in the government team said Griffiths brought the heads of the two delegations together for the first time in a meeting attended by the five ambassadors Tuesday. The two sides Tuesday exchanged lists of some 15,000 prisoners for a swap agreed at the start of the talks, which are due to last until Dec. 13. Delegates said the swap would be conducted via Houthi-held Sanaa airport in north Yemen and government-held Sayun airport in the south - a process overseen by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
"We have exchanged more than 7,000 names from each side, including some 200 high-ranking officers," said Ghaleb Mutlaq, a Houthi delegate.
Hadi's foreign minister said the government had submitted a list of 8,576 prisoners, including activists and journalists.
Abdel-Qader al-Murtaza, from the Houthi delegation, said Jan. 20 has been set a final date for a prisoner swap.
The parties have yet to agree on re-opening Sanaa airport and shoring up the central bank of the country, where most basic commodities are out of reach of millions.
Source: National News Agency