Ansar Allah delegation heads to Sweden talks

SANAA: An Ansar Allah delegation left for Sweden on Tuesday for UN-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 four-year-old conflict, which has killed thousands and left millions facing starvation, pits the Ansar Allah group against Yemeni forces backed by an Arab coalition loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
A Kuwaiti passenger jet carrying the Ansar Allah team accompanied by UN special envoy Martin Griffiths left the Ansar Allah-held capital Sanaa for Sweden, a Reuters reporter said.
Hadi’s government is expected to follow the group, whose attendance was secured after the evacuation of 50 wounded Ansar Allah fighters for treatment on Monday. Previous talks in September collapsed when the Ansar Allah failed to show up.
The warring parties are expected to convene in Sweden as early as Wednesday to discuss confidence-building measures and a transitional governing body, as the US Senate is set to consider a resolution to end support for the coalition in the war.
The Western-backed Arab alliance intervened in the war in 2015 to restore Hadi’s government, which Ansar Allah forces ousted from Sanaa in 2014, but has bogged down in military stalemate.
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 Red Sea city after a period of reduced hostilities.
“The situation here does not make us optimistic that we will avoid war,” said 51-year-old government employee Mohammed Taher.
SEVERE HUNGER: The conflict has left over 8 million Yemenis facing famine although the United Nations has warned this could rise to 14 million. Three-quarters of the population, or 22 million, rely on aid.
World Food Programme 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.
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said Yemen’s government will need billions of dollars in external support to finance its 2019 budget and avoid another currency collapse, in addition to $4 billion in aid.
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on Tuesday that the Sweden talks are a “critical opportunity”.
“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,” he said.
Sweden’s foreign ministry has yet to announce the venue of the talks, which 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 ceasefire that would halt coalition air strikes that have killed thousands of civilians and Ansar Allah missile attacks on Saudi cities.
“Yemenis need immediate relief as a stepping stone to longer term hope. The focus of the talks on the future management of the Hodeida port and city and de-escalation of the fighting are important and welcome,” David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said in a statement. — Reuters