RIMBO: The Yemeni city of Hodeidah, home to both a valuable port and frontlines, has proved the most complex issue at UN-sponsored peace talks between warring parties, a source said.
Ansar Allah fighters seized the Red Sea city of Hodeidah, a traditional conduit for 90 per cent of food imports to impoverished Yemen, in a massive territorial takeover in 2014, sparking the intervention allies on behalf of the government the following year.
Shipments to Hodeidah, including humanitarian aid, have been severely restricted. Ansar Allah fighters who are now ensconced in residential neighbourhoods to fight government forces.
The government demands the fighters withdraw completely from the city which Ansar Allah have refused.
“Hodeidah is the most difficult of all,” a UN source said, adding that progress on the port was crucial to finding a solution to the conflict.
The alliance launched an offensive to retake densely-populated Hodeidah in June, sparking fears of a fresh humanitarian crisis in a country already at the brink of famine.
Foreign Minister Khaled al Yamani said on Saturday a full rebel withdrawal from Hodeidah city and port were non-negotiable to the Yemeni government.
Yamani said the government was “ready to coordinate with the UN on supervision and the reinforcement of port operations” on condition the Ansar Allah vacated the area.
The conflict has triggered what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 14 million people now on the brink of famine. Nearly 10,000 people have died in under four years, according to conservative estimates.
The Sweden talks, which opened on Thursday, mark the first meeting between the Yemeni government and rival fighters since 2016 — when more than three months of talks on ending the Yemen collapsed without a breakthrough.
Among the other issues under discussion in Sweden are potential humanitarian corridors, a prisoner swap and the reopening of the defunct Sanaa international airport.
Meanwhile, warring parties held the first direct talks in UN-led peace efforts in Sweden on Sunday to iron out a prisoner swap, one of several confidence-building measures intended to help launch a political process to end nearly four years of conflict.
Since talks began on Thursday, UN officials have been shuttling between delegations from Ansar Allah group and the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi which is backed by a coalition.
The first negotiations in over two years were convened amid pressure from Western nations, some of which supply arms and intelligence and other members of the coalition. The war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands of people and caused a major humanitarian disaster.
Mediator Martin Griffiths opened the new round due to last until December 13 by announcing a deal to release thousands of prisoners. The two sides met in a renovated castle outside Stockholm on Sunday to discuss implementation of the deal.
The team from Hadi’s government initially refused to enter the room, saying Ansar Allah needed to include more senior delegates, but the meeting went ahead, delegates said.
“We are very optimistic about having a breakthrough on the prisoners issue… we have exchanged some lists in the past but each side needs to update them,” said Askar Ahmed Zayl, a delegate from Hadi’s government.
The parties have yet to agree on trickier issues such as re-opening Sanaa airport and a truce in the port city of Hodeidah, both held by Ansar Allah, both further confidence-building measures that are the focus of the talks in addition to a framework for negotiations.
“We have three or four days. If we end up without any agreement then this round has failed,” Ansar Allah’s main negotiator Mohammed Abdusalam told reporters. — Agencies