Yemen's warring parties meet in Jordan to discuss prisoner swap
The meeting is the first between warring parties since UN-led negotiations ended in December
The UN Security Council on Wednesday unanimously approved an expanded ceasefire monitoring mission in Yemen's Red Sea port of Hodeidah, allowing 75 observers to be deployed there for six months to try and ensure the fragile truce stays on track.
The resolution will almost quadruple the number of UN staff under Patrick Cammaert, a retired Dutch general, tasked with enforcing the ceasefire agreed between Yemen's government and the country's Houthi rebels during peace talks in Sweden last month.
Hodeidah is the point of entry for most of the nation's commercial goods and aid supplies and a cessation of violence is considered vital to speed up much needed food and medical supplies to people going hungry because of the war.
Both sides are required to stop fighting and for an ordered pull back of forces to hand control of the city and its important port to civilian authorities.
The UK said the move reaffirmed the commitment of the international community to the deal.
Meanwhile in Amman, Yemen’s warring parties met on Wednesday to discuss the implementation of a prisoner exchange deal, as Germany prepares to host a conference to support efforts to secure peace in the country.
The meeting in Amman marks the first time delegations representing Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government have met for direct talks since UN-led peace negotiations ended in Sweden last month.
During the talks in Rimbo in December, both sides agreed to release thousands of prisoners. Both sides would submit lists of names to be finalised.
The development came as Alistair Burt, the British minister for the Middle East, said that conditions were coming into place for a second round of peace talks to be held outside the country in the next few weeks. Speaking from Westminster on Wednesday, Mr Burt said it was important that another meeting take place to maintain momentum from the Stockholm meeting, particularly around the key port of Hodeidah.
“The effect on the ground has been for things to be much quieter than they were. There is sporadic incidents but there was bound to be,” he said. “The ceasefire is holding and there have been benefits on both sides.
“At this stage, my understanding is to keep those talks going because it’s not the letter of the law that anyone is necessarily going to adhere to but when those with weaponry who are facing each other have confidence in what the others are going to do.”
He said there had been offers from outside states to host talks, which he said would provide an acid test for the process. “There’s no date fixed for it but it very much in people’s mind that it will happen,” he said. “There have been one or two offers from states to host this, it is unlikely to be Stockholm but it will be outside the immediate area. Work is in active progress to set this up.”
A letter from the UAE embassy in London to the House of Lords obtained by The National called for international pressure on the Houthi militias to end violations of the agreement.
“Most recently the months-long campaign to liberate the Red Sea coast and specifically the city of Hodeidah has dramatically changed the dynamics of the conflict. It was achieved without damage to Hodeidah port or the city’s civilian population,” it said. “That required extraordinary self-restraint by Yemeni forces and their Coalition allies. The Houthis showed no such concern for collateral damage. Not only did they mine entrances to the port, they diverted food aid for sale on the black market, used warehouse holding humanitarian aid as vantage points for snipers and placed heavy weapons in civilian neighbourhoods.”
Mr Burt observed that scrutiny of aid distribution in Yemen had shifted and Houthi abuses were now scrutinised as never before.
Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are taking part in the two days of meetings in Jordan, according to a UN source. International envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, however, will not attend.
The ICRC is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the agreement. It has said that it will act as a neutral intermediary between the parties and provide technical and, if needed, logistical support to facilitate the transfer and release of detainees.
The head of the government’s prisoner swap committee, Hadi Haig, expressed hopes that talks will achieve progress on the implementation of the deal.
“We will attempt to solve the issue and push this matter forward,” he said on Twitter. “President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi has told us to engage in a positive manner as this is a main humanitarian issue.”
Meanwhile, Germany hosted a meeting on Wednesday to discuss next steps for the UN envoy to broker a political solution to the conflict.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that “Germany has invited international partners and key actors to support UN efforts for peace in Yemen.”
Talks in Sweden “have presented Yemen with a real window of opportunity” to make further progress, Mr Maas said.
The German official will open the “High Level Strategic Dialogue on the peace process and Prospects for Stabilisation in Yemen” at the foreign ministry in Berlin.
Mr Griffiths and Resident Coordinator of the UN in Yemen Lise Grande are expected to attend the event, the UN source said.
Mr Maas urged the international community to show constructive and strong support for the UN. “This includes ensuring that further progress is not impeded by a lack of funds or lengthy administrative processes,” he said.
During last month’s peace talks, Yemen's warring parties also agreed on a ceasefire in Hodeidah. However, the implementation all aspects of the deal appears to have stalled despite the deployment of UN observers to the area.
Yemen’ Foreign Minister, Khalid Al Yamani, said on Wednesday the international community must pressure the Houthis to abide by the deal.
Updated: January 16, 2019 07:51 PM