A Houthi delegation left for Sweden Tuesday for U.N.-sponsored Yemen peace talks, the first since 2016, as Western nations press for an end to the war and the United Nations warned of a looming economic disaster. The nearly 4-year-old conflict, which has killed tens of thousands and left millions facing starvation, pits the Iranian-aligned Houthi group against Yemeni forces backed by an Arab coalition loyal to President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi.
The Houthi team left the capital Sanaa, which was seized by the group in 2014, on a Kuwaiti plane accompanied by U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths following a prisoner swap deal.
Before boarding, one delegate praised Griffiths for delivering on confidence-building measures like the evacuation of wounded fighters and the prisoner swap. "Griffiths was true to his word ... We are certain he has put in place a general framework for negotiations in order to proceed with the political process," Abdel-Meguid Hanash told reporters.
Hadi's government is expected to follow the Houthis, whose attendance was secured after the evacuation of 50 wounded Houthis for treatment in Oman Monday. A previous round in September collapsed when the Houthis failed to show up.
The talks will be held to discuss further confidence-building steps and a transitional governing body, as the U.S. Senate is set to consider a resolution to end support for the coalition in the war.
Residents in the port of Hodeida, now a focus of the war, were fearful of renewed fighting if the talks failed as each side fortified their positions in the Houthi-held Red Sea city after a period of reduced hostilities.
World Food Program chief David Beasley said in Geneva that an upcoming food security report would show an increase in severe hunger rates in Yemen where a child dies every 11 minutes but not necessarily meet the criteria of famine.
U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said Yemen's government will need billions of dollars in external support to fund core state functions, its 2019 budget and to avoid another currency collapse, in addition to $4 billion in aid.
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said Tuesday that the Sweden talks are a "critical opportunity," saying: "A sustainable Yemeni-led political solution offers the best chance to ending the current crisis. A stable state, important for the region, cannot coexist with unlawful militias."
The talks will focus on reopening Sanaa airport and securing a prisoner swap and a truce in Hodeida, the entry point for most of Yemen's commercial goods and vital aid. This would serve as a foundation for a wider cease-fire.
The last available U.N. figure for the civilian death toll was in 2016 and stood at more than 10,000. The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, which tracks violence in Yemen, puts it at around 57,000 people.
Source: National News Agency