The delegation of the legitimate government arrived in Sweden to attend peace talks starting on Thursday with members of the Iran-aligned Houthi militia, in a renewed UN push to end a war that has pushed the country to the brink of starvation.
“The (UN special envoy) would like to announce the restart of the intra-Yemeni political process in Sweden on 6 December 2018,” UN envoy Martin Griffiths’ office tweeted.
A 12-member government delegation, led by Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled Al Yamani, arrived in Stockholm on Wednesday evening, one day after a rebel delegation flew in from Sanaa — accompanied by the UN envoy.
The talks mark the first meeting between Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and Houthi rebels, linked to Iran, since 2016, when 106 days of negotiations yielded no breakthrough.
A UN source said the two sides were unlikely to hold direct talks at a renovated castle outside Stockholm and that special envoy Martin Griffiths and his team would shuttle between them for the consultations, the first since 2016.
One representative of the internationally recognised government, Abdullah Al Alimi, tweeted that the talks were “a true opportunity for peace,” before the delegation flew out of the Saudi capital Riyadh on Wednesday.
Seeking to reinvigorate peace efforts, UN special envoy Martin Griffiths secured some confidence-building measures, including the evacuation of Houthi wounded, to help persuade the movement to attend the talks in Sweden.
The Houthi delegation arrived there on Tuesday, having failed to turn up for previous talks in Geneva in September.
Swedish authorities cordoned off the venue and several emergency vehicles could be seen stationed outside the castle ahead of the talks, which will focus on agreeing other confidence-building steps and the formation of a transitional governing body.
“If the consultations proceed positively, we will see an immediate change for people in Yemen. We will see fewer people hit by and fleeing violence, fewer people pushed to the most desperate means of staying alive,” said Mohamed Abdi, Yemen country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council.
“Equally, if the consultations fail, or stall, so too will hopes of halting Yemen’s steady descent into hell,” he said in a statement.
The Sweden meeting follows two major confidence-boosting gestures between the warring parties — a prisoner swap deal and the evacuation of 50 wounded insurgents from the rebel-held capital for treatment in neutral Oman.
The UN envoy is seeking agreement on reopening Sanaa airport, swapping prisoners and securing a truce in the Houthi-held port of Hodeidah, now a focus of the war. This could lead to a wider ceasefire that would halt air strikes and Houthi missile attacks on Saudi cities.
The United Nations is trying to avert a full-scale assault on Hodeidah, the entry point for most of Yemen’s commercial goods and aid. Both sides have reinforced positions in the Red Sea city in sporadic battles after a de-escalation last month.
The United States last month halted refuelling support for coalition warplanes, whose air strikes have been blamed for the deaths of thousands of civilians.