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Yemen warring parties agree to reopen Sanaa airport, resume oil, gas exports

Reuters , Thursday 13 Dec 2018
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Yemen's warring parties agreed on Wednesday to reopen Sanaa airport in the Houthi-held capital and resume oil and gas exports, sources said, as Western nations pressed them to accept confidence-building steps before the end of U.N.-led peace talks in Sweden.

The Houthi movement and the Yemeni government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi were still discussing a United Nations proposal on the contested port city of Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis facing starvation.

Hadi's premier, Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, told reporters in the government's base in the southern port of Aden that there might not be enough time for full agreement on Hodeidah as the talks, the first in over two years, conclude on Thursday.

"We talked about (it) a lot but with the limited time we have, we can’t talk about all the points in this round. The important thing is to build confidence and then go into the details of the Hodeidah file," he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was due to attend the final day of talks to support efforts to launch a political process that would end the nearly four-year-old war.

Gueterres called Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss Yemen, Saudi state news agency reported.

Another round of talks could be held in early 2019.

The Houthis hold most population centres, including Hodeidah and Sanaa from which it ousted Hadi's government in 2014.

A U.N. spokeswoman said both parties had received a "final package" of agreements covering the status of Hodeidah, Sanaa airport. "We hope to receive positive responses," she said.

The two parties agreed that international flights would stop at a government-held airport for safety s to be carried out before flying in or out of Sanaa, two sources familiar with the talks said.

Houthi delegate Abdelmajid Hanash said international flights from and to Sanaa would stop in Aden and the airport in Sayun in the south, but the U.N. would oversee the safety procedures. The U.N. declined to comment.

As part of confidence-building measures, both sides agreed to resume oil and gas exports to help shore up central bank coffers. Revenues would be used to pay salaries in both government and Houthi-held areas, delegates from both sides told Reuters.

Both sides have agreed to a U.N. role in the port, the entry point for most of Yemen's commercial imports and vital aid, but differ on who should run the city. The Houthis want Hodeidah declared a neutral zone, while Hadi's government believes the city should fall under its control as a matter of sovereignty.

"The devil is in the details - withdraw how far (from Hodeidah), the sequence, who governs and delivers services," said one diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The sides have also yet to agree on a transitional governing body, although a deal was struck on a prisoner swap that could see 15,000 prisoners freed.

A small group of Yemenis demonstrated outside the talks venue in Rimbo, north of Stockholm, waving the flags of former South Yemen in support of a separatist movement that is fighting alongside the coalition while trying to undermine Hadi's government.

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