Yemen rebels 'stranded' on eve of Geneva talks

Yemen rebels 'stranded' on eve of Geneva talks
The UN had been unable to "secure authorisation" from a Saudi-led coalition for a plane to transport the rebel delegation and wounded insurgents out of the country, the rebels said.
3 min read
05 September, 2018
The rebels said they were not given security clearance to depart the capital [Getty]

Yemen's Houthi rebels said they were stranded in the capital Sanaa on the eve of United Nations-sponsored peace talks in Geneva with their government rivals. 

The Houthis said the UN had been unable to "secure authorisation" from a Saudi-led coalition backing the government for a plane to transport the rebel delegation and wounded insurgents out of the country, according to the Houthis’ al-Masirah TV. 

While the rebel group controls Sanaa and much of northern Yemen, the coalition controls the country's airspace.

The Houthis have hinted that their delegation demanded the evacuation of wounded rebels to Oman for medical treatment as a condition for their attendance at the talks. 

Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam tweeted on Tuesday that the UN had "made promises on facilitating the transport of the wounded... abroad" and accused the world body of stalling. 

On Sunday, government officials said Yemen's warring parties will not meet face-to-face at the UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva this week, which will likely focus on a prisoner exchange deal.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths has said the talks are aimed at charting a path forward to revive UN-backed negotiations which broke down in 2016.

The Yemeni government says the talks will likely focus on a prisoner exchange deal and the fate of embattled Hodeida, the rebel-held port city that is now the frontline of the Yemen war. 

Yemen's Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani told AFP the meetings "will not be face-to-face and depend on how well the UN envoy manages the two sides". 

"The consultations will be indirect, unless there is some progress that can be made directly," said Abdullah al-Olaimi, head of Yemen's presidential office and a member of the Geneva delegation. 

Prisoner swap deal

Yemen's government has openly said it has low expectations for the talks, blaming the Houthis for refusing to make concessions.

"Our expectations are limited to the possibility of progress in the question of prisoners and detainees," Yamani said.

"I think this is the chance to succeed in securing the release of prisoners, and I believe the other party is also willing and ready." 

The UN has likewise set a low bar for the talks - the first since 106 days of negotiations in Kuwait failed to yield an agreement between the government and rebels back in 2016.

The Houthi delegation to Kuwait was grounded in Oman for three months on its way back to Yemen, blocked from travel by the Saudi-led coalition.

"The aim of this first round of consultations is to better understand how committed both parties are to the framework for formal negotiations... and to come to some conclusions about how those negotiations may start," said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

In July, the Yemeni government demanded the release of all prisoners held by the Houthis as a condition for the start of peace talks. 

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a government source said the delegation would demand the release of 5,000 prisoners while the rebels were hoping for the liberation of 3,000 of their fighters.

In 2014, the Houthis seized Sanaa, driving the government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi into exile and marking a major turning point in Yemen's long-running conflict. 

The following year, Saudi Arabia and its allies formed a powerful regional military coalition to back the Hadi government in its fight against the rebels.

More than 10,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led alliance joined the war, pushing the impoverished country to the brink of famine, in what has been described by the UN as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.