The belligerent parties of Yemen gather in Sweden for peace talks – Al Jazeera English


Stockholm, Sweden – The UN special envoy has appealed to the warring parties of Yemen to "act immediately" for the future of the war-torn country, while representatives of the government and Houthi rebels have joined the peace talks sponsored by the 39; UN in Sweden.

"The future of Yemen is in the hands of those in this room", said today Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy in Yemen, in his opening speech to the talks aimed at ending more than three years of devastating war.

"We must act immediately before losing control of the future of Yemen," he said.

"Both sides have asked for a progressive reduction, which is an important background for these talks: it is a show of serious intent".

For the second time since the start of the conflict, government officials of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and representatives of the Houthi rebel movement have joined talks to discuss ways to end the fighting they have killed about 56,000 people left 22 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

Previous sources have told Al Jazeera that the UN special envoy is trying to introduce a series of measures to strengthen confidence in talks in Rimbo, a remote city about 50 km north of the Swedish capital Stockholm, which will open the way for future negotiations.

"I am also pleased to announce the signing of an agreement on prisoners, those who have been forcibly detained," Griffiths said.

"It will allow to reunite thousands of families.

"What we will do here and in the coming weeks is work on the realization of this."

While the warring parties will not meet face-to-face, a source familiar with the talks said confidence-building measures will include negotiating a cease-fire in the port city of Hodeidah, large exchanges of prisoners, the re-opening of the 39, Sanaa International Airport and payment of salaries to civil servants in areas held by Houthi.

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said the talks could be "an important start".

"It is up to you the warring parties to engage in constructive talks between them and Martin [Griffiths]. What is needed are concessions, compromises and courage, "he said.

But Yemen's Foreign Minister, Khaled al-Yamani, gave little indication that he would offer concessions to his rivals.

He rejected a proposal by Houthi to form a presidential council without President Hadi as "absurdity".

"They should withdraw from the institutions of the state and return them to the legitimate government, apart from that, there will be no peace," he told Al Jazeera.

"They should respect the will of the international community and hand over their weapons, ammunition and missiles.

"Apart from this, there will be no solution, no solution."

Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) allowed 50 injured Houthi rebels to be transferred to neighboring Oman for medical treatment in the context of measures to strengthen confidence.

Delegates participate in peace talks [Faisal Edroos/Al Jazeera]

The Saudi-UAE coalition is carrying out a "lethal" military offensive against the Houthis since March 2015, months after the Iranian aligned rebels have overthrown the government internationally supported by President Hadi.

On Tuesday, the Yemeni government said they accepted a large-scale prisoner exchange with the Houthis, with reports suggesting that as many as 2,000 pro-government forces could be traded for 1,500 Houthi.

"We have signed an exchange of prisoners and we do not see the hour [implementing] ", the Yemeni foreign minister told Al Jazeera.

Peace can only be achieved if the Saudis, the emirates and the Iranians cease to intervene in the affairs of Yemen

Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni activist and co-winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize

"Going in the right direction"

The Houthi told Al Jazeera that they are engaged in the talks and are willing to hand over the strategic port of Hodeidah to the UN. The port of Hodeidah is a lifeline for humanitarian supplies for the country's war-torn population.

The rebels also promised to end all drone and missile attacks against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in exchange for the alliance's interruption of its air strikes.

Peter Salisbury, Yemen analyst and consultant at the International Crisis Group, said the talks "seem to be in the right direction".

"The best of cases is a broad agreement on these confidence-building measures, this includes something positive about Hodeidah that will ward off the battle for the port and the city, and an agreement to meet some time later for future talks."

After months of deadly fighting in the strategic port city, the Saudi Arabia alliance, which supports the Yemeni government, and Iran, which allegedly supports the Houthi, have agreed that there can not be just a political solution to the conflict .

But soon, Thursday Al Masirah, The Houthi media wing said the planes killed at least three women in the city of al-Duraymi in the province of Hodeidah.

"While the process seems to be moving in the right direction, the odds are in favor of a negative result," Salisbury said.

"If not in the talks, then in the next few weeks."

Shortly before the talks began, the Yemeni government asked the rebels to withdraw completely from Hodeidah, while the Houthi threatened to close the Sanaa airport unless their demands were met.

Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni activist and co-winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, said that "peace can only be achieved if the Saudis, the emirates and the Iranians cease to intervene in the affairs of Yemen".

"This intervention damaged Yemen and increased the suffering of ordinary Yemenis," he said.

"If this negative intervention is not reduced, the Yemenis will not be able to reach a political agreement that preserves the sovereignty of the country".

& # 39; Dbloodless isagree & # 39;

International pressure to end the war has increased from the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, in October.

The Western powers have expressed their rage for murder, with countries like Germany and Norway suspending arms exports to Saudi Arabia and US Senators calling into question the Washington strategic partnership with Riyadh.

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a strongly formulated resolution in which the Saudi hereditary prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the alleged atrocities committed during the war in Yemen.

WATCH: Imminent Yemenite Talks "Pray" Will End War (2:51)

Abdul Malik al-Ajri, a member of the Houthi delegation, told Al Jazeera that the rebels hoped that the consultations would lead to "inclusive political dialogue".

"We hope these negotiations will help end the war," al-Ajri said.

On Tuesday, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed urged rival parties to embrace dialogue, stating that the war brought only destruction to the Yemenis.

"You should agree and not agree without bloodshed and wars like people in a house," Ahmed said in a statement.

"Plan your growth and progress, and continue with the civilization you were once in the front line."

The parties in conflict must put aside their partisan and personal gains and seek the good for Yemen and the Yemeni people

Hamid Sharaf Ali, a resident of Sanaa

& # 39; Yemen can not wait & # 39;

Yemen has been torn apart by the conflict since 2014, when the Houthi rebels, allied with the troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, have conquered vast stretches of the country, including the capital Sanaa.

Saudi Arabia launched a massive air campaign against the rebels in March 2015, aimed at restoring the government of Hadi.

Since then, the United States has been helping the coalition, which is now mainly composed of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with weapons and logistical support.

Until recently, Washington was also fueling the alliance planes that were responsible for over 18,000 raids on the country.

According to the Yemen Data Project, almost a third of all those bombing missions targeting non-military sites.

Residents in the Yemeni capital have called on the warring parties to put aside their differences, saying that the country had reached a precipice and that "the Yemenis could no longer wait".

Hamid Sharaf Ali, a school security guard told Al Jazeera: "The warring parties must put aside their partisan and personal gains and seek good for Yemen and the Yemeni people."


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