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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Yemen’s government urges UN to take a firmer approach with Houthis 

The rebels are “not serious” about finding peace, an adviser to Yemen's president tells The National on the sidelines of peace talks in Sweden

UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths shakes hands with Yemeni delegates at the opening press conference on UN-sponsored peace talks for Yemen. TT News Agency via Reuters
UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths shakes hands with Yemeni delegates at the opening press conference on UN-sponsored peace talks for Yemen. TT News Agency via Reuters

Yemen’s government is urging the UN to take a firmer approach in dealing with Houthi rebels as peace talks are expected to continue in Sweden on Friday, an adviser to President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi told The National.

Mohammed Mousa Al Amiri said on Thursday that UN Envoy Martin Griffiths must be “realistic” when negotiating with the rebels, who he claims are “taking advantage” of UN-backed talks to deepen the country’s humanitarian crisis.

“A big part of the problem here, and we have spoken about this with the UN envoy, is that we want the mediator to be realistic with the Houthis, to tell them that they are in the wrong and are violating international laws,” Mr Al Amiri said, explaining that he believes that such a confrontation is the only way to reach a peaceful settlement.

“Taking a soft stance towards the rebels will enable them to commit further crimes against humanity and to worsen Yemen’s destruction and humanitarian catastrophe,” Mr Al Amiri said.

A Houthi delegation arrived in the Swedish town of Rimbo, north of Stockholm on Tuesday, in a sign of willingness to engage in negotiations, but the government still believes that rebels are not “serious” about finding a peaceful solution to the war, according to the adviser.

Mr Al Amiri says he believes Houthi rebels are deliberately refusing to make concessions and are rejecting the international community’s calls for a political settlement.

The advisor also claimed that Houthis are leveraging a stall in fighting in Yemen, owed largely to talks, to get “their affairs in order”.

“The rebels are changing their tactics on the ground because the National Army can easily re-take the strategic port of Hodeidah,” he said.

The Yemeni government, backed by the Arab Coalition, accuses the Iran-backed rebels of using their control of the port, the main entry point for Yemen's food imports and desperately needed humanitarian aid, to smuggle in weapons from Iran.

“Hodeidah can fall back into the hands of the government, but we are giving an opportunity to the peace because we want peace,” Mr Al Amiri said.

More than three years of fighting have left 8 million Yemenis facing severe food shortages. UN officials say that 14 million people, or half the population, are at risk of famine.

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Although the Swedish talks are not expected to deliver a breakthrough, they could prevent a catastrophic battle for the port where thousands of civilians are trapped.

Mr Griffiths said the two sides have signalled they were serious about de-escalating the fighting through calls they’ve made in recent weeks and urged them to work to further reduce the violence in Yemen.

“We anticipate the talks this week will be on Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, the release of prisoners, detainees and those abducted by the militia,” Mr Al Amiri said.

Although many involved in the negotiations remain skeptical of a peace deal emerging from the talks, Mr Griffiths maintains that contact between the two parties brings them closer to a political agreement.

The last round of talks in 2016 continued for 100 days before the negotiations broke down in hostilities.