Yemen government team heads to crunch peace talks with rebels

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RIMBO (SWEDEN), Dec 5 (AFP): Yemeni government representatives were expected to join a rebel delegation in Sweden on Wednesday for high-stakes peace talks aimed at ending four years of devastating war.

A 12-member team from the Saudi-backed government headed by Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani left Riyadh early Wednesday, sources told AFP, a day after rebel delegates landed in Stockholm accompanied by the UN peace envoy.

The first Yemen talks since 2016 are widely seen as the best chance yet for peace, as the international community throws its weight behind efforts to resolve a conflict that has pushed the Arab world’s poorest country to the brink of famine.

The government delegation was carrying the ‘hopes of the Yemeni people to achieve sustainable peace’, the head of exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi’s office, Abdullah al-Alimi, said in a tweet.

The delegation had delayed its departure until the rebels had arrived in Stockholm after they failed to show up for the last UN bid to convene peace talks in September, sources close to the government told AFP.

On that occasion the rebels complained they had received insufficient guarantees of safe passage through the blockade enforced by a Saudi-led coalition since March 2015.

The rebels flew in to Stockholm on a Kuwaiti plane from Sanaa on Tuesday, accompanied by UN envoy Martin Griffiths, who had promised to travel with them to allay their concerns.

On Wednesday, a half-dozen members of the rebel delegation could be seen on the grounds of the venue for the talks, the Johannesbergs Castle a large estate with a golf course in the countryside 20 kilometres northeast of Stockholm’s Arlanda airport.

Bundled up against the wintry cold, rebel delegates could be seen chatting and walking on the grounds, which were cordoned off by police.

The rebels’ arrival followed two major confidence-boosting gestures a prisoner swap deal and the evacuation of 50 wounded insurgents from the rebel-held capital for treatment in neutral Oman.

The US State Department hailed the peace talks in Sweden as a ‘necessary and vital first step’ and called on all parties to ‘cease any ongoing hostilities.’

The United Arab Emirates, another key backer of the Yemeni government, said the planned talks offered a ‘critical opportunity’ to bring peace to a country in the grip of what the UN has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

No date has been announced for the start of the negotiations, but Yemeni government sources said they could begin Thursday.

The head of the 12-member rebel delegation, Mohammed Abdelsalam, said it would ‘spare no effort to make a success of the talks to restore peace and end the aggression’.

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