RIMBO: The Houthi militia is “not serious” on finding common ground to end the devastating war in Yemen, a member of the government delegation to the UN-brokered talks in Sweden told AFP Saturday.
Nearly four years into a war that has pushed 14 million Yemenis to the brink of starvation, the Saudi-backed government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and the Houthi militia, linked to Iran, are in the rural town of Rimbo for what UN officials expect will be a week of negotiations.
“Expectations stem from experience, and from experience I would say no, they are not serious,” said Rana Ghanem, a member of the government delegation to the talks.
“But our hope ... is that this will help alleviate the tension, and alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people,” said Ghanem, the only woman in either delegation.
The last round of talks in 2016 broke down in Kuwait after more than three months of negotiations.
A plan to host the warring parties in Geneva collapsed in September after the rebels refused to leave the capital Sanaa, citing safety concerns.
Government representatives, Houthi spokesmen and UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths have all said the talks are not aimed at finding a political solution to the conflict.
Both Yemeni parties have threatened to leave the talks if certain demands are not met.
Ghanem confirmed the two parties had not yet met face-to-face, with Griffiths and his team shuttling between the delegations.
The feuding sides had, however, been chatting “informally” in the halls, she said.
Among the issues under discussion are the country’s failed economy, potential humanitarian corridors, a prisoner swap, the reopening of the defunct Sanaa international airport, and Hodeida, the rebel-held city at the heart of an ongoing government offensive.
The government has held firm to its demand that the Houthis evacuate the western governorate of Hodeidah, home to a Red Sea port that is the entry point for 90 percent of food imports to impoverished Yemen, and hand the area over to security forces.
The Houthis, however, refused that demand Friday.
And Yemen's Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Yamani said on Saturday the Houthi-held port of Hodeidah must be handed over to the government.
"We accept that the port works under the administration that ran the port in 2014," Khaled Al-Yamani told AFP.
The rebels seized Hodeida, Yemen's most valuable port, located on the Red Sea, in a takeover of territory in 2014.
Al-Yamani added that Aden will be home to the country's main airport.
"We have a vision that Aden will be the sovereign airport of Yemen," Khaled Al-Yamani told AFP in his first interview since the talks opened in Sweden on Thursday.
A government proposal to turn Sanaa internatonal airport into a domestic airport was also rejected by the Houthis Friday.
Sanaa airport has been largely shut for three years, during which the Arab coalition took control of Yemen’s sea and airspace.
The coalition accuses the rebels of smuggling arms from Iran through Hodeidah and Sanaa airport. Tehran denies the charge.
The Houthis, northern tribesmen who hail from the minority Zaidi Shiite community, overran the capital and a string of ports in a territorial takeover in 2014.
Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened to bolster the Hadi government’s standing.