UN-backed Yemen peace talks begin in Sweden

Stockholm: Peace talks backed by the United Nations aimed at ending the four years of civil war in Yemen kicked off here on Thursday.

The crucial meet, which is between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels, was also attended by Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom and UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths at Johannesburg Castle in the city, Anadolu News Agency reported.

During the meeting, Wallstrom urged both parties to bury their differences and reconcile to end the conflict, which has claimed over 10,000 lives, including women and children.

Griffiths, on the other hand, underscored that the two sides agreed to exchange prisoners as part of a confidence-building step.

The deliberations would continue for the next 10 days.

According to a statement released by the UN, Griffiths extended his appreciation to the Swedish government for hosting the “direct consultations” between the Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels and Saudi-led coalition backing the Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi government in Yemen.

Earlier in September, the world body had taken steps to bring together the Houthis and an official delegation of the Yemeni government in Geneva for consultations, but conditions did not materialise.

The armed conflict that has been continuing since the past a few years, has brought more than 22 million people that accounts to over three-quarters of the entire Yemeni population, in dire need of humanitarian assistance or protection, of whom over eight million are severely food insecure and at risk of starvation, the UN has estimated.

The Saudi-led military intervention against a Houthi rebel insurgency in early 2015 has also wrecked the country’s medical, water and sanitation systems, resulting in the outbreak of cholera and other deadly diseases. Thousands of civilians, especially children, have lost their lives either in airstrikes or fighting hunger.

Yemen’s capital Sanaa is currently held by the Houthis, who killed then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh in December 2017.