Yemen foes hold direct talks, prisoners freed

 KUWAIT: Yemen's United Nations envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed holds a press conference at the ministry of information yesterday. - Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

KUWAIT: Yemen’s United Nations envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed holds a press conference at the ministry of information yesterday. – Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

KUWAIT: Yemen’s warring parties held “productive” face-to-face peace talks yesterday on “key issues” in a bid to end the conflict in the impoverished Arab country, the UN envoy said. “The talks today were positive and productive… It is an encouraging beginning,” Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed told a news conference after the first direct talks since the delayed negotiations began on April 21. “Today, we heard the parties pledge total commitment to (UN Security Council) Resolution 2216 and related decisions, the Gulf initiative and results of Yemeni national dialogue as the basis for a peaceful solution,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Houthi movement said yesterday that Saudi Arabia had handed over 40 prisoners as part of an agreement to quell border fighting. “We received 40 prisoners, 20 of those were captured inside Yemen,” Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam said in a statement. He did not say where the remaining prisoners had been captured.

Yesterday’s talks came after the government and rebel delegations each submitted a framework for a political and security solution to end the 13 -month war. Ould Cheikh Ahmed said that despite the progress made “we still have obstacles and ideas are still far apart”. Most of the meetings in talks have so far been confined to encounters between rival delegations and Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

More than 6,800 people have been killed and around 2.8 million displaced in Yemen since a Saudi-led coalition began operations in March 2015 against Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who seized swathes of territory including the capital Sanaa. Key issues include the withdrawal of armed groups, a handover of heavy weapons, the resumption of a political transition and the release of prisoners. The government delegation said their proposal is based on implementing Resolution 2216, which states that the rebels must withdraw from seized territories and disarm before talks can progress.

The rebel delegation representing the Iran-backed Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh said that their proposals include “forming a consensus authority that would oversee (political) transition”. The rebel proposals also call for the lifting of the blockade imposed by the Saudi-led military coalition on Yemen.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed said although there has been an improvement in firming up the ceasefire that went into effect on April 11, some “grave violations” remain, especially in the besieged city of Taez. The UN envoy also said that the Saudi-led Arab coalition has stopped air sorties in the past four to five days. The UN Security Council on Monday stressed the importance of agreeing on a “roadmap” to implement security measures including the withdrawal of heavy weapons from Yemeni towns.

This article was published on 30/04/2016