Rimbo(Sweden): Yemen’s Houthi rebels are open to more talks with the rival government if progress is made this week at UN-brokered negotiations in Sweden, a spokesman said on Sunday.
The Sweden initiative marks the first meeting between the two sides since the 2016 breakdown of talks to end the Yemen war, which has claimed more than 10,000 lives since 2015 when Saudi Arabia and its allies joined the government fight against the rebels.
The conflict has triggered what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
“If we leave these consultations having made progress -- progress in building confidence and finding a framework -- we can hold a new round of talks” in the coming months, Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdelsalam told reporters.
Abdelsalam, who heads the rebel delegation, spoke on the sidelines of UN-brokered talks in the rural village of Rimbo, where warring Yemeni parties are gathered.
Among the issues under discussion in Sweden are potential humanitarian corridors, a prisoner swap, the reopening of the defunct Sanaa international airport, and Hodeida, the rebel-held port city at the heart of a government offensive.
Two government delegates on Sunday said their representatives had met face-to-face on the prisoner swap, which had been agreed to by both parties before the Sweden talks.
A UN official confirmed a “committee” meeting on Sunday on the prisoner swap. The International Committee of the Red Cross will oversee the exchange.
Officials do not aim for a ceasefire at the talks, which are scheduled to wrap up on Thursday or Friday. A member of the government delegation told journalists on Saturday a suspension of military operations was not on the table.
Abdelsalam reiterated his group’s call for the reopening of Sanaa international airport, closed save for a few select aid flights for nearly three years now.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled Al Yamani on Saturday said his team had proposed the main airport be relocated to Aden, the southern city that serves as a government bastion.
Around 20 million Yemenis are food insecure, UN agencies said on Saturday, adding the conflict ravaging the impoverished country was the key driver behind rising hunger levels.
“As many as 20 million Yemenis are food insecure in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” a joint statement by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the children’s fund UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) said.
“Already 15.9 million people wake up hungry” in Yemen, it said, citing an analysis by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), a food security survey.
According to the IPC -- whose analysis is necessary to decide whether to declare famine in countries -- the 20 million people facing “severe acute food insecurity” represent 67 per cent of Yemen’s population.
“What the IPC tells us is alarming,” said Lise Grande, UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.
WFP head David Beasley said the analysis “is an alarm bell that shows hunger is rising”.
“We need a massive increase in aid and sustained access to all areas in Yemen in order to rescue millions of Yemenis. If we don’t, we will lose an entire generation of children to hunger,” he warned.
A WFP spokesman said the organisation aims to scale up its support programme in Yemen from the current level of 7-8 million people to reach 10 million by the end of December and 12 million by end January.