FRI 18 - 1 - 2019
Sep 7, 2018
The Daily Star
Yemen talks hang in balance as Houthis stall
GENEVA/ADEN: Scheduled peace talks in Geneva between Yemen’s government and Houthi rebels hung in the balance Thursday as the two sides traded ultimatums and a U.N. envoy scrambled to mediate.
The rebel delegation, still in Sanaa, insisted the U.N. meets three demands before it travels to Switzerland, prompting government representatives already in Geneva to give the Houthis a 24-hour deadline or threatening to leave.
U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths, who earlier said the planned meeting offered a “flickering signal of hope” for an end to the yearslong conflict, had to postpone the start of the talks.
“He continues to make efforts to overcome obstacles to allow the consultations to go forward,” his office said in a statement, adding that Griffiths remained “hopeful” the rebels would come.
The Geneva talks are meant to be the first since 2016, when 108 days of negotiations between the government of President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi and rebels failed to yield a deal.
The Houthis control the capital Sanaa and much of northern Yemen, while an Arab coalition which backs Hadi’s government controls the country’s airspace.
Led by Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, a delegation of the Yemeni government arrived in Switzerland Wednesday.
But on what was meant to be the opening day of talks, the rebels issued an ultimatum from Sanaa, saying they would not join until the U.N. meets three conditions that it had already agreed to.
They want the transportation of wounded rebels to Oman for medical care, the repatriation of rebels who have already received treatment there, and a guarantee that the Houthi delegation will be allowed to return to Sanaa after the Geneva talks. The government delegation said Thursday it would wait only until midday Swiss time Friday.
“We have this scheduled meeting since two months ago ... Today we are alone,” delegation member Hamza al-Kamali told journalists in Geneva, and claimed the rebels clearly “don’t want peace.”
Clearance for a flight carrying rebel delegates and wounded was “issued three days ago,” he insisted.
“We want them to come, and we are pushing them to come,” Kamali said. However, “we will leave, if they don’t come ... in the next 24 hours.”
Griffiths, was “mindful of the challenges associated with bringing the parties together to Geneva, bearing in mind that they haven’t met for two years,” his office said in a statement. Thursday, an AFP journalist saw the envoy entering the Geneva hotel hosting the Yemen government delegation.
Griffiths had told journalists he would begin informal consultations with the government team while the rebels make their way to Switzerland.
If and when the two parties do eventually meet, he said, there would be no “formal negotiations,” merely exploratory talks on how best to get everyone around a negotiating table.
The U.N. Security Council this week urged both sides to “take a first step towards ending a conflict that has brought severe pain and humanitarian suffering to the Yemeni people.”
All previous attempts to resolve the Yemen war have failed.
Griffiths is the U.N.’s third Yemen envoy since 2014, when Houthis overran the capital and drove Hadi’s government into exile.
The following year, Saudi Arabia and its allies formed a powerful regional military coalition to back Hadi. The conflict has left nearly 10,000 people dead and pushed the Arab world’s most impoverished country to the brink of famine.
Thursday, the coalition acknowledged there may have been “collateral damage” from August 23 strikes the U.N. said killed 26 children south of the port of Hudaida.
Wednesday, Saudi Arabia shot down a ballistic missile fired by Houthi rebels, with shrapnel wounding 26 people including two children, the coalition said.
Separately, provincial governor Salmeen al-Bahseeni threatened Thursday to halt oil shipments from the southern Hadramawt region if the internationally recognized government doesn’t comply with demands of protesters against the deteriorating economic situation.
Hadramawt produces about 100,000 barrels per day, accounting for about half of Yemen’s total oil production. Southern Yemeni separatists backed by United Arab Emirates control most southern provinces, including Hadramawt, and have been at odds with Hadi.
South Yemen has been rocked by violent protests in the last two weeks after the Yemeni rial lost more than half its value against the U.S. dollar since the start of a civil war in 2015.
Bahseeni and other southern officials back the protesters and accuse Hadi’s government of mismanagement.
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