Wednesday, 16 Jan 2019
World

Expectations low as warring parties in Yemen meet for talks

CAIRO – Yemen's warring parties will meet in Sweden this week for another attempt at talks to end their three-year-old catastrophic war. However, incentives for major compromises are rare. -climbing.

US officials say they do not expect rapid progress towards a political settlement, but hope at least for minor steps that would help address the escalating humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

British Ambassador Karen Pierce said "it is very good news" that all parties have come to Stockholm "but the hard work is starting now and we hope that the parties will engage in good faith in sides of the United Nations ".

The internationally recognized government, which is backed by a US-backed, US-sponsored coalition, and Houthi rebels aligned with Iran, say they are fighting for peace. A Houthie delegation arrived in Stockholm late Tuesday night, accompanied by US envoy Martin Griffiths. The government delegation and the head of the rebel delegation went to Sweden on Wednesday.

The steps taken to build confidence prior to the talks included an exchange of prisoners and the evacuation of wounded rebels for medical treatment. The release of funds from abroad by Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to pay state employees in rebel-held territory is also ongoing.

Yemeni scholar Hisham Al-Omeisy, who has written extensively on the conflict, said the talks would focus on "de-escalating and launching the political process".

"This is not much, but given the humanitarian situation and the toxic political atmosphere currently prevailing in Yemen, it's better than nothing."

The conflict began with the takeover of the capital Sanaa by the Houthis and much of northern Yemen in 2014. The Saudi-led coalition went to war with the rebels the following month next march.

The war claimed the lives of at least 10,000 people, with experts estimating that the toll would be much higher. Saudi-led airstrikes have hit schools, hospitals and marriages, and the Houthis have fired long-range missiles into Saudi Arabia and targeted ships in the Red Sea.

The fighting in Yemen has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Executive Director of the World Food Program David Beasley said Tuesday that 12 million people were suffering from "great hunger".

"I've heard a lot saying that our country is on the brink of disaster," Beasley said. "This is not a country on the brink of a disaster. It is a country in full catastrophe. "

The growing humanitarian needs and indignation sparked by the assassination of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi mobilized international support to end the war. The United States called for a ceasefire and reduced some of its logistical support to the coalition. Iran also expressed support, calling on all parties to "participate constructively and responsibly in the talks".

But previous peace efforts have failed and neither side is willing to compromise.

Saudi Arabia will probably not tolerate what it sees as an Iranian proxy, and the Houthis have little incentive to withdraw from the capital and other territories they have captured and held at great expense. Other armed groups involved in the chaotic civil war, including southern separatists and local militias, will not be participating in this week's talks.

At the same time, the two main parties could see the other party as weakened, which would incite them to formulate maximalist demands. Since the assassination of Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia has been under heavy US pressure and the Houthis are facing enormous financial difficulties.

The stalemate is high in Hodeida, a Red Sea port city where Yemen imports 70% of its food and humanitarian aid. Forces backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been trying to seize the city for months, but have been held back by rebels entrenched on its periphery, with neither party wishing to retreat.

The fighting in and around Hodeida killed nearly 1,500 civilians last month and has displaced at least 134,000 families since June, according to the US Humanitarian Aid Office.

In a Yemen appeal, the regional director of the US agency for children called for the immediate end of the war that had been going on for years.

"Yemen is today a hell for millions of children … There is only one message to send to those who are gathering today in Sweden. This is the message of peace for this brutal war … for this war to stop now, "said Geert Cappelaere of UNICEF.

Cappelaere spoke after visiting a hospital in Aden, in the south of the country, where he met with patient children. He said that 7 million children in Yemen go to bed hungry each night.

One of the ideas likely to be discussed during the negotiations is a proposal for the rebels to entrust Hodeida to some type of US administration. Both parties could also discuss new releases of prisoners.

But it is unlikely that the Houthis will agree to withdraw from the territory or lay down their arms, as the Yemeni government has repeatedly asked. And the Hadi administration will probably not accept a power-sharing agreement that would give the Houthis a greater role in the government, which was one of the original goals of the rebellion.

"I do not expect much from this round," said Baligh al-Makhlafy, a Yemeni pro-government analyst attending talks as a technical consultant. "Perhaps there will be more exchange of prisoners or progress in the economy, but I do not think the Houthis will leave Hodeida peacefully. They believe that they have a powerful card there. "

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Follow Brian Rohan on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Brian_Rohan.

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