Yemen peace talks: what has been agreed?
Government and Houthi rebels strike a prisoner swap deal as ‘breakthrough’ talks draw to a close in Sweden
The two warring sides in Yemen’s ongoing civil war are holding face-to-face discussions for the first time to discuss a potential prisoner swap, one of several confidence-building measures aimed at bringing the three-year conflict to an end.
Delegations from the government of Yemen and the Houthi rebels fighting them for control the country began last Thursday in Sweden. The discussions are being mediated by the UN.
Yesterday, the two sides confirmed what is being described as a “breakthrough” deal by agreeing to a prisoner swap involving around 15,000 detainees from both factions, says Al Jazeera.
Further UN-orchestrated discussions aimed at a de-escalation of violence in two flashpoint cities in Yemen appear to have hit a stumbling block.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is due to attend a final day of talks on Thursday to support his envoy’s efforts. What do each of the parties want and can it be achieved?
What are the sides negotiating?
The Sweden talks, the first negotiations in over two years, are not specifically aimed at finding a solution to the Yemen conflict and both sides have ruled out a truce.
Instead, the talks will focus on a few key areas, Channel News Asia reports, including the “humanitarian corridors, a prisoner swap, the reopening of the defunct Sanaa international airport and the fate of Hodeidah”, the rebel-held Red Sea port city that has become the focal point of the conflict.
Earlier this year, the Saudi-led coalition amassed on the edge of the embattled city of Hodeidah, laying seige to the city and cutting off supplies of food and medicine, as well as any hope of escape for civilians.
Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy for Yemen, has described Hodeidah as the “centre of gravity for the war”, The Guardian reports. He has suggested bringing it under the joint UN-supervised control of Houthi rebel fighters and the UN-backed government led by Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Guterres is scheduled to attend the last day of talks in Sweden on Thursday. He is expected to hold meetings with the two delegations and will address the closing session of the current round of consultations, the UN said in a statement.
“If we end up without any agreement then this round has failed,” Mohammed Abdusalam, the lead negotiator for the Houthi delegation, told Reuters. “But if we have a draft on some general framework, the reopening of Sanaa airport, the prisoners’ release, keeping the central bank neutral and a de-escalation in Hodeidah ... this will be a good step to hold another round in one or two months.”
Will they reach an agreement?
At least one major deal has already been struck. On Tuesday, both parties exchanged lists of about 15,000 prisoners to be released under the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Reuters reports.
On other key issues – particularly the prospect of joint control of Hodeidah – diplomats and analysts have limited expectations.
After the Saudi-led coalition’s assault on the city sparked an international outcry, both parties agreed to grant the UN a supervisory role in the city. But the government is demanding that the rebels withdraw completely, something the Houthis have repeatedly refused to do. Instead they are stipulating that the city become a “neutral zone”, Reuters adds.
The Daily Sabah says there is “not much hope” of either party supporting a UN proposal to bring the city under joint control and both sides have continued to issue threats of further violence during the discussions.
The talks come amid reports that November 2018 was one of the bloodiest months of the entire war in Yemen, with at least 3,058 documented deaths.
More than 10,000 people have been killed since Saudi Arabia and its allies joined the government’s war against the Houthis. This has triggered what the UN is describing as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
“Fatality numbers are only one approximation of the abject tragedy and terror forced upon Yemenis from several sides. This cannot be overstated,” said Clionadh Raleigh, executive director of ACLED, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
In spite of her words and those of the UN, the talks appear to be focusing entirely on the political and military status of the war. The Daily Sabah reports that the humanitarian crisis is “not their main priority”.