No face-to-face meetings set for Yemen peace talks

Displaced Yemenis from the border area of Hiran with Saudi Arabia build a makeshift shelter at an improvised camp for displaced people in the northern province of Hajjah on August 29, 2018. The UN has invited Yemen’s government and the Iran-backed Houthi militia to Geneva for talks which open Thursday. ( AFP / ESSA AHMED)
Updated 03 September 2018
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No face-to-face meetings set for Yemen peace talks

  • Yemen’s government has openly said it has low expectations for the talks, blaming the Houthis for refusing to make concessions
  • The US says it fully supported Griffiths’ peace efforts

ADEN: Yemen’s warring parties will not meet directly at UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva this week, likely to focus on a prisoner exchange deal and the fate of a key port, government officials said Sunday.

The UN has invited Yemen’s government and the Iran-backed Houthi militia to Geneva for talks which open Thursday.

Both parties have confirmed they are sending high-level delegations to the talks, but officials say expectations of a breakthrough are low.

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 meetings will likely focus on a prisoner exchange deal and the fate of embattled Hodeida, the Houthi-held port city.

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.

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 US said on Sunday it “fully supported” Griffiths’ efforts.

“It is imperative that all parties work toward a comprehensive political solution to avoid further harm to the Yemeni people,” said state department spokesperson Heather Nauert.

The UN has 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 Houthi militia in 2016.

“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 Houthis were hoping for the liberation of 3,000 of their fighters.

Rights group Amnesty International in July said it feared violations in a string of Yemeni prisons could amount to war crimes.

The Geneva talks will also look at the economy in Yemen, long the Arab world’s most impoverished country.

In 2014, the Iran-backed Houthis overran the capital, driving out the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and setting up a parallel government in Sanaa.

The rebels, however, have been unable to pay the salaries of many civil servants for months, according to reports from the capital.

Yamani said the government could step in to help pay the overdue salaries, a move likely aimed at strengthening the state’s grip on the national economy and boosting its standing in militia-held areas.


Germany wants trial for Syria militants but warns of difficulties

Updated 18 February 2019
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Germany wants trial for Syria militants but warns of difficulties

  • ‘We must be able to ensure that prosecution is possible’
  • The minister noted that there is ‘no government in Syria with which we have a sensible relationship’

BERLIN: Germany vowed Monday to prosecute German Daesh fighters but warned that it would be “extremely difficult” to organize the repatriation of European nationals from Syria, after US President Donald Trump called on allies to take back alleged militants.
Syria’s US-backed Kurdish forces, which are battling Daesh group militants in their last redoubt in eastern Syria, hold hundreds of suspected foreign Daesh fighters and the calls for their reluctant home countries to take them back have grown in urgency.
“We must be able to ensure that prosecution is possible,” Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told Bild daily.
Underlining the difficulties however of putting the ex-fighters on trial, the minister noted that there is “no government in Syria with which we have a sensible relationship.”
President Bashar “Assad cannot be our counterpart, the Syrian-democratic forces are not a unity government,” she added, stressing that proof and witness statements needed to be secured in Syria if the militants are to be put on trial.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said separately that a return could only be possible if “we can guarantee that these people can be immediately sent here to appear in court and that they will be detained.”
For this, “we need judicial information, and this is not yet the case,” Maas told ARD television late Sunday. Under such conditions a repatriation would be “extremely difficult to achieve.”
Berlin wants to “consult with France and Britain ... over how to proceed,” he said.
The subject is to be raised on Monday at a meeting of European foreign ministers called to discuss among other issues “the situation in Syria, in particular the recent developments on the ground,” according to an agenda for the talks.
Trump on Sunday called on his European allies to take back alleged militants captured in Syria.
Daesh imposed a self-declared caliphate across parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq from 2014, but has since lost all of it except a tiny patch of less than half a square kilometer near the Iraqi border.
After years of fighting Daesh, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) hold hundreds of foreigners accused of fighting for the group, as well as their wives and children.
Syria’s Kurds have repeatedly called for their countries of origin to take them back, but these nations have been reluctant.
“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 Daesh fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” Trump said in a tweet.
After initial reluctance, Paris appears ready to consider the return of its nationals.
In Belgium, Justice Minister Koen Geens called for a “European solution” on Sunday, calling for “calm reflection and looking at what would be the least security risks.”