RIMBO: Yemen’s government has proposed reopening the Ansar Allah-held airport in the capital Sanaa on condition planes are first inspected in the airports of Aden or Sayun which are under its control, two government officials said on Friday.
The proposal was made at UN-sponsored Yemen peace talks in Sweden aimed at building confidence-building measures that could eventually lead to a ceasefire to halt air strikes by a coalition that have killed thousands of civilians, and Ansar Allah missile attacks on cities.
Yemen’s warring sides agreed on Thursday to free thousands of prisoners, in what UN mediator Martin Griffiths called a hopeful start to the first peace talks in two years to end a war that has pushed millions of people to the verge of starvation.
Griffiths wants a deal on reopening Sanaa airport, shoring up the central bank and securing a truce in Hodeidah, the country’s main port, held by Ansar Allah and a focus of the war after the coalition launched a campaign to capture it this year.
Marwan Dammaj, Yemen’s Minister of Culture in the internationally-recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, said Sanaa airport should be re-opened to put “an end to the people’s suffering regarding transportation”.
“But it should be a domestic airport from where Yemenis can go to Aden and then leave to international destinations,” added Dammaj, a member of the government delegation.
Hamza al Kamali, another member of the delegation, said airplanes must stop in airports in the southern city of Aden or Sayun, east of the capital, for inspection before leaving Yemen.
The war has killed tens of thousands of people and spawned what the United Nations calls the world’s direst humanitarian crisis, since a Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened in 2015 to restore a government ousted by Ansar Allah movement.
No talks have been held since 2016, and the last attempt in Geneva in September failed when the Ansar Allah did not attend.
Ansar Allah controls Sanaa and the other most populated areas,
while the ousted government based in the southern city of Aden has struggled to advance despite the aid of Arab states.
Humanitarian suffering in one of the world’s poorest countries has added to pressure on the parties to end the conflict, with faith in the effort flagging among Western allies that arm and support the coalition.
Meanwhile, a government offensive on Hodeida remains an option if rebels refuse to withdraw from the port city, a minister said on Friday, as the warring sides met for UN-brokered talks.
“We are now in negotiations in response to calls by the international community, the UN and the UN envoy. We are still looking into means towards peace,” said Agriculture Minister Othman al Mujalli.
“But if they (the rebels) are not responsive, we have many options, including that of military decisiveness,” he told reporters in response to a question on the city. “And we are ready.”
Talks between Yemen’s government and Ansar Allah fighters, opened on Thursday in Sweden — the first meeting between the two sides in two years in a conflict that has pushed impoverished Yemen to the brink of mass starvation.
Rights groups have urged both sides to make concessions in the fight for control over one of the world’s poorest countries to spare further civilian suffering — as 14 million people edge towards famine and one child dies every 10 minutes of preventable causes.
While the days leading up to the gathering saw the government and rebels agreeing on a prisoner swap deal and the evacuation of wounded insurgents for medical treatment, both parties traded threats as the talks began. The two sides have not yet met face-to-face.
No closing date has been set for the meeting, where talks are expected to focus the fate of Hodeida, a city on Yemen’s western coastline that houses the country’s most valuable port.