Yemen govt, fighters at odds over airport reopening

Rimbo: Yemen’s government and Ansar Allah fighters were at odds over reopening a key airport on Saturday, the third day of UN-brokered talks aimed at ending the country’s catastrophic war. The government proposed the reopening of Sanaa airport in the capital on condition it will be limited to domestic flights between the city and the government-controlled city of Aden.
Representatives at the talks, which kicked off on Thursday in Sweden, insist the airport operate international flights, the pro-Ansar Allah television Al Masirah reported.
The government says the airport is under the control of the fighters and allege they could use international flights to smuggle in arms.
The airport has been closed to commercial flights since August 2016 by an alliance fighting on the side of the Yemeni government against Ansar Allah.
The consultations in the Swedish town of Rimbo are a renewed attempt by the UN to end nearly four years of civil war that have pushed the country to the brink of famine. 
Ansar Allah continues to reject a government demand to hand over the Red Sea city of Hodeida and its vital port. UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths on Saturday held separate meetings with delegations from the government and fighters.
“Several files were discussed at today’s meetings including those of prisoners, Sanaa airport, Hodeida and de-escalation,” a member of the government delegation said, asking not to be named.
The two sides signed a prisoner swap deal before their delegations arrived in Sweden. 
Meanwhile, Yemen’s main port city should be declared a “neutral zone” and the United Nations could play a role in Sanaa airport, Ansar Allah’s main negotiator said on Saturday on the sidelines of talks.
The Ansar Allah control major population centres in Yemen, including the capital Sanaa and the Red Sea port of Hodeida, a lifeline for millions of people that is now a focus of the war after the coalition launched a campaign to capture it this year.
Special envoy Martin Griffiths is trying to avert a full-scale assault on Hodeida, the entry point for most of Yemen’s commercial goods and vital aid.
“It (Hodeida) should be a neutral zone apart from the conflict, and the military brigades that came from outside Hodeida province should leave,” Ansar Allah negotiator, Mohammed Abdusalam, said in Rimbo on the sidelines of peace talks with the government.
The UN-sponsored talks, the first in more than two years, are focused on confidence-building steps, including reopening Sanaa airport and a truce in Hodeida that could lead to a broader ceasefire in the nearly four-year-old conflict that has pushed Yemen to the verge of starvation.
Asked if Ansar Allah forces would then withdraw from Hodeida, Abdusalam said: “There will be no need for military presence there if battles stop… Hodeida is an economic hub and it should stay that way for the sake of all Yemenis.”
— Agencies