Yemen's rival factions discuss peace plan in Oman

Yemen's rival factions discuss peace plan in Oman
Oman is mediating between Yemeni rivals over peace plans presented last week by UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
3 min read
31 May, 2017
Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed presented the UN plans last week [AFP]

Oman is mediating between Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi's government and its Houthi opponents over a UN plan to resume peace talks in the war-torn country.

A Yemeni government official speaking on condition of anonymity told Reuters on Tuesday that Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdel Malek al-Mekhlafi was in Muscat for talks.

The invitation is to discuss ways to bridge differences with the Houthis over plans presented to Yemen last week by UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

The plans included confidence-building measures such as turning over the Red Sea port of Hodeidah to a neutral party, opening Sanaa airport to civilian traffic and paying civil servants' salaries.

UN aid chief Stephen O'Brien warned on Tuesday that any attempt to extend the war to the strategic port city would "directly and irrevocably drive the Yemeni population further into starvation and famine".

The Omani side has conveyed to Mekhlafi the Houthis' willingness to accept this plan but also its insistence that civil servants' salaries be paid first.

"The differences regarding Hodeidah now centre on the identity of the neutral party which will manage the port," the official said.

He added that the Omani side had informed Mekhlafi in talks on Monday that the Houthis were ready to agree to Ould Cheikh Ahmed's plan in full.

"The differences are not confined to the neutral party that will administer Hodeidah port," the official said.

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Oman maintains good ties with the Houthis, who seized Sanaa in a 2014 campaign that eventually forced Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia in 2015 with his government.

The Gulf Arab state had long mediated in international affairs, including facilitating talks between Iran and the United States.

Hadi's government - which had recently made some small gains at the battlefront after months after a long stalemate - has threatened to attack Hodeidah, where most of Yemen's food and humanitarian supplies enter.

They are demanding the Houthis agree to turn the facility over to neutral observers or the offensive will be launched.

The Houthis have in turn demanded that the Saudi-led coalition that controls Yemen's airspace allow Sanaa airport to reopen and that the Yemen central bank, which Hadi had moved last year from Sanaa to Aden, pay salaries that had been withheld from civil servants for several months.

Yemen's war has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced more than three million, and ruined the country's infrastructure since the Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened in support of the government two years ago.

The war has been exploited by al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group to widen their influence in the impoverished country, prompting repeated US airstrikes against militants.