Yemen peace talks in balance as parties trade ultimatums

Yemen peace talks in balance as parties trade ultimatums
The rebel delegation, still in Yemen's capital Sanaa, insisted the UN meets three demands before it travels to Switzerland, while the government warned it would leave Geneva within hours.
3 min read
07 September, 2018
More than 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen since March 2015 [Getty]

Scheduled Yemen peace talks hung in the balance on Friday, with the Houthi rebels listing preconditions for coming to Geneva while the government warned it would decide within hours whether to fly home.

The rebel delegation, still in Yemen's capital Sanaa, insisted the UN meets three demands before it travels to Switzerland.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths, who earlier said the planned meeting offered a "flickering signal of hope" for an end to the years-long conflict, had to postpone the start of the talks and was left scrambling to save them.

"He continues to make efforts to overcome obstacles to allow the consultations to go forward," his office said in a statement, adding that Griffiths remained "hopeful" the rebels would come.

The Geneva talks are meant to be the first since 2016, when 108 days of negotiations between the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and rebels failed to yield a deal.

The Houthis control Sanaa and much of northern Yemen, while a Saudi-led coalition which backs Hadi's government controls the country's airspace.

Led by Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, a Yemen government delegation arrived in Switzerland on Wednesday.

But on what was meant to be the opening day of talks, the rebels issued an ultimatum from Sanaa, saying they would not join until the UN meets three conditions that it had already agreed to.

They want the transportation of wounded rebels to Oman for medical care, the repatriation of rebels who have already received treatment there, and a guarantee that the Houthi delegation will be allowed to return to Sanaa after the Geneva talks.

The rebels said late on Thursday that the coalition was "still refusing to give permission to a Omani plane" to land at Sanaa and take the delegation to Geneva.

The rebels also need to "ensure the safety of the delegation" and require a guarantee that they would be allowed to return "smoothly" to Sanaa airport, according to a statement posted on the SABA news agency website.

Rebels 'don't want peace’

On Thursday, the government delegation said it would wait only 24 hours, until midday (1000 GMT) on Friday, then leave Geneva.

Yamani later denied that the government had issued such an ultimatum but told journalists in Geneva "the government delegation will take a decision within a few hours whether to continue in Geneva or to withdraw".

Yemen delegation member Hamza Alkamali said the talks had been scheduled for two months and that the rebels clearly "don't want peace".

Clearance for a flight carrying rebel delegates and wounded was "issued three days ago," he insisted.

Griffiths, was "mindful of the challenges associated with bringing the parties together to Geneva, bearing in mind that they haven't met for two years," his office said in a statement.

On Thursday, an AFP journalist saw the envoy entering the Geneva hotel hosting the Yemen government delegation.

Griffiths had told journalists he would begin informal consultations with the government team while the rebels make their way to Switzerland.

If and when the two parties do eventually meet, he said, there would be no "formal negotiations", merely exploratory talks on how best to get everyone around a negotiating table.

The UN Security Council this week urged both sides to "take a first step towards ending a conflict that has brought severe pain and humanitarian suffering to the Yemeni people".

Agencies contributed to this report.

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