Yemen talks set to begin in Sweden

Sanaa: Wounded Yemeni fighters arrived at Sanaa airport to be flown for treatment in a ‘confidence-building’ measure on Monday, as the UN envoy returned seeking to push ahead with planned peace talks.
The evacuation on a UN chartered plane marks a key step in kickstarting stalled negotiations as world powers press for an end to the brutal four-year conflict that has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
Wounded Ansar Allah fighters were transported across the capital, controlled by the insurgents since 2014, in ambulances as they
made their way to the long-defunct Sanaa International Airport on Monday.
Inside the airport departure hall, other wounded fighters — some in suits and wheelchairs — lined up awaiting their evacuation.
A security official inside Sanaa airport said the fighters had begun to board the private, UN-supervised flight on Monday evening.
Coalition spokesman Turki al Maliki confirmed the UN chartered flight would evacuate 50 wounded combatants, 50 escorts and a team of Yemeni and UN doctors.
The fate of wounded fighters had been a stumbling block to the start of a previous round of aborted peace talks in Geneva in September.
The fighters have said they will now attend the talks in Sweden if they are guaranteed safe passage.
The UN is trying to persuade the Ansar Allahs insurgents and the government to sit down at the negotiating table this month.
UN envoy Martin Griffiths landed in Sanaa on Monday, an AFP photographer at the airport said, for talks with the fighters.
A UN source said the reopening of Sanaa International Airport, shut for more than three years following air raids by the coalition, was a priority at the planned peace talks.
Ansar Allah had announced at the weekend that the airport could now meet the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to “receive civilian flights”.
The ICAO has not released a statement on Sanaa airport.
A UN panel of experts this year said the “effective closure” of Sanaa airport since 2015, when the alliance intervened in the Yemen war, constituted a violation of international humanitarian law.
The proposed UN-brokered peace talks have been backed by both the fighters and the government and were expected to take place in Sweden this week.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, however, has played down the early December schedule and said he hoped talks would start “this year”.
The opposing sides cautiously reiterated their willingness to attend negotiations.
Yemen’s Information Minister, Moammer al Eryani, said the government had agreed to the Sweden talks as a first step towards “facilitating negotiations” and to end “all excuses invoked by the coupists (fighters) to evade finding peace”.
Ansar Allah military spokesman Yahya Saree said the fighters were ready to hold talks “starting with a ceasefire” by the rival coalition at a press conference broadcast on the insurgents’ Al Masirah television.
Iran also offered support on Monday, saying it was ready to cooperate with the international community to resolve the crisis.
Previous talks planned for September in Geneva failed to get under way as the Ansar Allah delegation never left Sanaa, saying the United Nations could not guarantee their safe return.
The fighters also accused the world body of failing to secure the evacuation of wounded fighters.
Talks initially broke down in 2016, when 108 days of negotiations in Kuwait failed to yield a deal and left fighter delegates stranded for three months. — AFP