Yemen peace talks hailed as step forward
TUNIS - Yemen’s warring parties agreed to a series of important measures in the final days of negotiations in Sweden, including a ceasefire in the Red-sea port town of Hodeidah and the establishment of local control over the governorate.
"There is a ceasefire declared for the whole governorate of Hodeida in the agreement and there will be both from the city and the harbour a withdrawal of all forces," United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres told reporters in the rural Swedish town of Rinbo. “The UN will play a leading role in the port."
Analysts and politicians praised the agreements as a step forward in ending the four-year war, which has claimed an estimated 60,000 lives and spurred a humanitarian catastrophe.
"This is a minor breakthrough. They have been able to achieve more than anyone expected," Elizabeth Dickinson, a senior analyst with at the International Crisis Group, told Reuters.
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash added: "Important political progress made including the status of Hodeidah.”
"The diplomatic progress was made possible by sustained military pressure against the Huthis along the Red Sea and around Hodeidah.”
The talks come amid growing international concern over Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, the result of a war that has pitted a Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen’s elected President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi against Iran-backed Houthi rebels, an armed Islamic group that overran much of the country, including the capital Sana’a, in 2014-2015.
In November, UN Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths, who was crucial to setting up the peace talks, said the situation in Yemen “remains the largest humanitarian disaster in the world.”
A central concern has been the fate of Houthi-controlled Hodeidah, which is a key access point for humanitarian aid, but also the entry way for Iranian weapons utilised by the rebels, according to the Saudi-led coalition.
The Houthis have fired dozens of rockets – thought to be acquired from Iran – across northern Yemen into Saudi Arabia over the past months, including at the capital Riyadh.
As per the agreement reached in Sweden, armed forces are to withdraw from Hodeidah “within days,” Griffiths said. "The design of the withdrawal is first from the three ports, within days, then from the city.”
Numerous key issues were tabled until further talks, including the status of Sana’a International Airport and the drafting of a political blueprint for peace. Substantive discussions on how to address the country’s war-wrecked economy have also yet to be had.
However, Griffiths said that the Houthis had agreed in principle to allowing a UN presence at the airport in Sana’a, which could soon open up to commercial flights.
"It's clear and it's public knowledge that starting point is opening up to commercial flights, maybe domestic at first, and eventually (international)," Griffiths said.