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Yemen Peace Talks Begin With Agreement to Free 5,000 Prisoners

7 diciembre, 2018

The United Nations hopes to broker a deal that would place Hodeida under international control, allowing relief to flow unimpeded into the country.




Declan Walsh

c.2018 New York Times News Service

Yemen’s warring sides agreed Thursday to exchange prisoners, starting peace consultations in Sweden that aim to end a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of civilians and pushed millions to the brink of famine.


The United Nations envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, opened the talks, saying they represented a “critical opportunity” for Yemen. The prisoner exchange, said to involve at least 5,000 detainees, is the first of several confidence-building measures intended to draw the Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition that supports President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi into more substantive negotiations.


Also on the table is a proposal to reopen the airport in the capital, Sanaa, which has been under a Saudi blockade since 2015 — one of several punishing measures that have fueled what the United Nations calls the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.


But hopes for the talks, which are taking place in a renovated castle north of Stockholm, are fragile. Numerous efforts to forge a cease-fire have crumbled, mostly recently in September, when a Houthi delegation failed to turn up in Geneva. Analysts have warned that another failure could set off even more intense fighting.


This time, however, the negotiations are being driven by a greater sense of international urgency.


The United Nations has issued dire warnings of potential famine in Yemen. In the United States, outrage over the killing of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi has increased broad pressure on the Trump administration to end military support.


Griffiths has said that the talks can succeed only if both sides “suspend their belief in the possibility of a military victory.”


In the weeks before the talks, the United Arab Emirates, a key Saudi ally, pushed forward with a fierce offensive to snatch the Red Sea port of Hodeida from Houthi control. Now coalition forces nearly surround the city, which is crucial to international aid efforts.


The United Nations hopes to broker a deal that would place Hodeida under international control, allowing relief to flow unimpeded into the country. The United Nations has warned that as many as 14 million people, or half the population of Yemen, could soon be dependent on that aid.


The talks are scheduled to last one week.



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