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UN pushes for truce, humanitarian corridors at Yemen talks

12 December 2018, MVT 21:07
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir (R) escorts Yemen's Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Hadrami (C) as they arrive to attend a meeting of foreign ministers of countries from seven Arab and African states surrounding the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, in the Saudi capital Riyadh on December 12, 2018. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP)
12 December 2018, MVT 21:07

Mediators in UN-brokered talks on Yemen pushed Wednesday for a truce between warring parties as a crucial step to allow aid deliveries, with 24 hours left in the negotiations.

But the likeliest issue on which the parties could agree is Sanaa airport, shut down for years in the war between the Saudi-backed government and northern rebels linked to Iran.

Yemeni government representatives told reporters the rivals were hammering out the final details on an airport deal. Two rebel negotiators denied to AFP that their team had agreed to a UN proposal as yet.

UN negotiators are seeking a de-escalation of violence in two flashpoint cities: rebel-held Hodeida, a port city vital to the supply of humanitarian aid, and Taiz, Yemen's third largest city, scene of some of the war's most intense fighting.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was due at the talks in Rimbo, Sweden, for Thursday's closing round of consultations. His arrival comes hours after his office said it had evidence the rebel Huthis were using Iran-made missiles.

- 'No agreement' -

The Sweden talks, which opened Thursday, mark the first meeting between Yemen's Huthi rebels and the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, backed since 2015 by a behemoth military coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

Both government and rebel representatives have traded accusations of unwillingness to negotiate, particularly on rebel-held Hodeida, the main route for 90 percent of food imports and nearly 80 percent of aid deliveries.

Multiple draft proposals have been submitted to the two delegations over the past week. None have found consensus as yet.

Yemeni ministers Othman Mujalli and Marwan Dammaj told reporters Wednesday their camp would hold firm to UN Security Council Resolution 2216 -- which calls for the Huthis to withdraw from all areas seized in a 2014 takeover, including Hodeida.

The rebels have refused a full withdrawal.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani this week proposed government-held Aden as Yemen's sole international airport, with Sanaa turning into a hub for domestic flights.

The government accuses the rebels of arms smuggling through Sanaa airport and the Red Sea port of Hodeida, and the Saudi-led coalition has severely restricted flights to and from Sanaa for years.

While a source inside the talks said a deal had been reached on Sanaa airport, rebel representative Abdelmalik al-Ajri told AFP his team had not agreed to the latest proposal.

"There is no agreement," Ajri said. "Talks are ongoing."

"The issue today is the airport, the final touches," said Othman Mujalli, Yemen's agriculture minister and a member of the government delegation.

"Today's discussion is around (Sanaa airport), which will be a domestic airport for flights that have been searched during a stop in Aden."

The Yemen conflict has killed nearly 10,000 people since the Saudi-led coalition joined the war in 2015, according to the World Health Organization, triggering what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Both parties stand accused of failing to protect civilians. The Saudi-led alliance has been blacklisted by the UN for the killing and maiming of children.

Rimbo, Sweden | AFP

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