Yemeni talks to start Thursday in Sweden: Houthi leader


Abu Dhabi - Proposed UN-led talks in Sweden mark a "critical opportunity" to bring peace to Yemen, a top Emirati official said Tuesday.

Envoy Martin Griffiths had been in Sanaa for meetings to evacuate the 50 wounded Houthi fighters for treatment in neutral Oman on Monday - a key Houthi precondition for the talks.

A previous attempt by Griffiths to hold UN-sponsored talks in Geneva collapsed in September when the rebels failed to appear.

The United Nations says the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, already the worst in the world, will deteriorate in 2019, almost four years after a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia invaded the impoverished country and began an intense campaign of airstrikes and ground attacks which are still ongoing.

Yemeni sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that a delegation representing the legitimate government would only travel to Sweden after making sure that a Houthi delegation touches foot in the European country, where peace talks are not expected before Thursday.

Rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdelsalam confirmed their departure on Twitter, saying the Huthis "will spare no effort to make a success of the talks to restore peace and end the aggression".

The nearly four years of the Yemeni war have killed more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, displaced 3 million others, and pushed the country to the brink of starvation.

The deal covers between 1,500 and 2,000 members of the pro-government forces and between 1,000 and 1,500 rebels, government official Hadi Haig said.

The UN envoy said on Monday that he was "pleased to confirm" the evacuation and "urged all Yemenis to work together in pursuit of peace".

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Kuwait's Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled al-Jarallah earlier told reporters that his country's ambassador to Yemen would also accompany the rebel delegation travelling to Stockholm.

The talks are also expected to discuss the reopening of Sanaa global airport and the payment of salaries to civil servants in Houthi-held areas.

Western powers, which provide arms and intelligence to the coalition, may have greater leverage to demand action on Yemen after outrage over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Riyadh's consulate in Istanbul increased scrutiny of the kingdom's activities in the region.

A United Nations source said the reopening of Sanaa airport, effectively closed since the coalition intervened in 2015, was a priority for the planned talks in Sweden.

"A stable state, important for the region, can not coexist with unlawful militias", Gargash said.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are leading a Sunni coalition that began an air campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen in March 2015.

The United States welcomed the prospect of peace talks on Tuesday, less than a week after U.S. senators moved forward with a historic resolution to halt Washington's support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

The resolution demands that the rebels recognize the legitimacy of President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi's government and withdraw from all towns and cities they had taken, including Sanaa.