The Yemeni government threatened Friday in Sweden, on the sidelines of rare consultations with the rebels, to launch a military offensive to free the port of Hodeida, the main point of entry for humanitarian aid in Yemen, an ultimatum immediately rejected by the rebels Houthis.
The belligerents – the Saudi-backed government and Iran-backed rebels – are meeting for the first time since 2016. The goal of the UN, at the initiative of these contacts, is to renew the dialogue to end a conflict that has left at least 10,000 people dead since 2014 and hurled 14 million people to the brink of starvation.
There are officially no prerequisites for these consultations facilitated by the signing this week of an agreement on the exchange of thousands of prisoners. But both sides threaten to break the dialogue if his demands are not satisfied.
In particular, the government demands the total withdrawal of the rebels from the strategic port of Hodeida (West), which was captured in 2014 and accuses the rebels of using weapons to import weapons.
“We are currently negotiating in response to calls from the international community, the UN and the UN mediator, and we continue to explore ways to achieve peace,” the report told reporters. Minister of Agriculture on the sidelines of the talks.
“But if they (the rebels) are not constructive, we have many options, including military intervention,” Othman al-Mujalli added.
- The port under supervision? –
Moujalli said the government was unwilling to compromise on the port’s control. The UN, according to him, could play a role of “supervision” but it is excluded to place the port under foreign trusteeship.
The abandonment of Hodeida “is not on the agenda,” said a member of the Houthie delegation.
The rebels on their side demand the reopening of the airport of the capital Sanaa – that they control since 2014- with the civil traffic. They threatened Thursday to close it also to UN planes.
“We are in favor of the reopening of Sana’a airport (…), Yemenis should have the right to travel anywhere in the world,” said Abdulaziz Jabari, an adviser to the Yemeni president, on Friday.
The rebels are also opposed to the resumption of domestic flights to and from the capital as requested by the government. “Sana’a airport is an international airport,” Abdelmalak al-Ajri told AFP.
The international airport was closed to civilian commercial traffic after the military intervention in 2015 of a pro-government coalition led by Saudi Arabia that controls from the airspace.
- De-escalation –
The consultations in Sweden opened on Thursday under the auspices of UN mediator Martin Griffiths of Britain, who hailed a “unique opportunity” to bring the belligerents back on the road to peace and rebuild Yemen, the country. the poorest of the Arabian Peninsula, devastated by the conflict.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on the parties to show “flexibility” and “a commitment in good faith and without preconditions”.
He asked them to continue “the de-escalation in Hodeida” where sporadic fighting continues despite a truce signed in November after a broad offensive by the pro-government coalition.
According to Martin Griffiths, “consultations” in Sweden are primarily aimed at “building trust” and “reducing violence” on the ground.
All attempts to end the four-year war have so far failed, while the humanitarian situation in Yemen, the UN’s worst in the world, is deteriorating day by day.
In September, peace talks stalled over Houthis negotiators’ refusal to travel to Geneva without assurances on their return trip to Sanaa and the evacuation of wounded rebels to Oman.
After this failure, “the fact that they meet (in Sweden) is already a success in itself and it would be another success that they agree to meet again,” said a Western ambassador to AFP.
“The context was favorable to the organization of these consultations,” he said. He quoted the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which put considerable pressure on Saudi Arabia, US sanctions against Iran, the unity of the Security Council over Yemeni file and famine that threatens 14 million people, a major concern of the international community.