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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Sweden emerging as focus of Yemen peace efforts

Stockholm says it could host Yemen's warring sides for talks

Yemeni pro-government forces gather on a motorway in Hodeidah on November 8, 2018. AFP
Yemeni pro-government forces gather on a motorway in Hodeidah on November 8, 2018. AFP

Sweden is emerging as a key player in resolving Yemen's war and the resulting humanitarian crisis after signalling its willingness to host the next round of UN-led peace talks.

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said her country has been asked if it “could be a place for the UN envoy Martin Griffiths to gather the parties in this conflict” — the internationally recognised government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, backed by the Arab Coalition, and the Iran-backed rebels known as Houthis.

“At this stage we take a positive view of this request and of the efforts of the UN envoy in bringing the parties together,” a spokeswoman for the Swedish foreign ministry told The National on Thursday.

An attempt to hold peace talks in Geneva in September collapsed after the rebels refused to travel to the Swiss city.

Sweden has emerged as a possible venue as Mr Griffiths called on the opposing sides in the nearly four-year conflict to heed growing international pressure for a quick resumption of the political process and a ceasefire.

Yemen's civil war, which began when the Houthis seized Sanaa, the capital, in September 2014, has left 22 million people — about 75 per cent of the population — in need of assistance, according to the UN.

Hamza Al Kamali, a member of the government delegation for the Geneva talks, said Sweden considered itself a neutral party, especially in its political stance.

“By potentially hosting these talks, Sweden wants to take a humanitarian approach towards ending the war in Yemen,” Mr Al Kamali told The National.

The United States has called for an urgent halt to the war and a start to negotiations aimed at a political settlement. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis called last week for a ceasefire within 30 days.

"We support the UN special envoy’s efforts to hold the consultations in a third country," a State Department official told The National.

Yemen’s former human rights minister, Hooria Mashour, said Sweden had played a distinguished role in the UN with regard to security, international peace and the promotion of human rights.

“The call by Sweden comes in line with international pressure from Washington, London, Paris on the need to stop the war in Yemen and to focus on the political track,” Ms Mashour told The National.

Stockholm has paid a great deal of attention to Yemen’s humanitarian crisis and in April co-hosted a donor conference, along with the UN and Switzerland, to raise funds for Yemen.

International donors pledged more than US$2 billion (Dh7.4bn) in humanitarian aid to provide life-saving assistance as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres declared the war in Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

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Ms Mashour believes the pressure to end the war comes in light of Yemen’s deteriorating humanitarian situation, which she described as an "embarrassment to morality".

"International civil society organisations are pressing their governments for the opening of airports, ports and to facilitate the entry and distribution of aid, to revive the economy and overcome this humanitarian disaster," she said.

There is a window of opportunity now for all sides to push seriously toward restarting talks, Elizabeth Dickinson, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, told The National.

“The US has given a strong signal that it expects all parties to move toward a political solution, and there is also growing urgency from the coalition to reach a negotiated settlement. The humanitarian situation cannot wait,” Ms Dickinson said.

In the next 30 days, the focus should be on ensuring that all parties show good faith and avoid any action that could jeopardise talks, she said.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies in the Arab Coalition intervened in the conflict at the request of Mr Hadi's government in March 2015.

The Arab Coalition has called for the complete withdrawal of the Houthis from Hodeidah, one of Yemen's largest ports and a a lifeline for coalition and international aid to reach millions living in areas under rebel control. The rebels have offered to hand the operation of the port to the UN, but under their supervision.