UN chief announces ceasefire for Hodeida port at peace talks

AFP , Thursday 13 Dec 2018

Head of Houthi delegation Mohammed Abdul-Salam (R) and Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yaman (L) s
Head of Houthi delegation Mohammed Abdul-Salam (R) and Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yaman (L) shake hands next to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres (C), during the Yemen peace talks closing press conference at the Johannesberg castle in Rimbo, near Stockholm December 13, 2018 (Photo: TT News Agency/Pontus Lundahl via REUTERS)

UN chief Antonio Guterres announced Thursday a series of breakthroughs in talks with rivals in the Yemen conflict, including a ceasefire for a vital port.

The Yemeni foreign minister and the rebel leader shook hands in a highly symbolic gesture on the seventh day of the UN-brokered peace talks in Sweden.

The conflict has triggered what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with 14 million Yemenis now at the brink of mass starvation.

Guterres, who flew in to Sweden late Wednesday, announced that the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels had agreed on a ceasefire in the port of Hodeida, the main entry point for imported food and aid.

He said the United Nations would play a "leading role" at the Red Sea port, which is currently controlled by the rebels.

In addition, the rivals have reached a "mutual understanding" on Yemen's third city of Taiz, the scene of some of the most intense battles in the conflict.

He said a new round of talks would take place at the end of January.

International pressure has been mounting to halt the fighting between the Iran-linked Houthis and the government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, backed by Saudi Arabia and its military allies, with the US Senate, Saudi Arabia and the UAE honing in on the fragile talks.

The warring parties have been in the rural Swedish village of Rimbo for a week to try to hammer out agreement on a number of key issues.

A source inside the talks had said earlier that mediators remained "positive" although there was "disagreement on the points of the proposals".

The rebels control both the Red Sea port of Hodeida and the capital Sanaa. The Saudi led-military coalition controls Yemen's maritime borders and airspace.

Guterres did not immediately refer to any deal on Sanaa airport, which has been closed to commercial flights for nearly three years.

Top diplomats in last-minute push 

Guterres flew into Sweden late Wednesday to attend the closing session, which had been pushed back two hours from its announced time on Thursday.

The foreign ministers of Britain, the UAE and Saudi Arabia announced they were also in Rimbo for the last day of negotiations.

Britain's Jeremy Hunt notably met with both the government and rebels at the talks.

UN special envoy Martin Griffiths, who brokered the talks, was expected to brief the Security Council on Yemen on Friday.

The US Senate on Wednesday voted to advance a resolution that ends US backing for the Saudi-led intervention by 60 votes to 39, with 11 Republicans joining Democrats to back the measure.

The final vote is expected to take place on Thursday. However, if the upper house approves the resolution, it is likely to run aground in the lower House of Representatives where Republicans hold the majority until January 3.

Both the rebels and government alliance stand accused of failing to protect civilians. 

The Sweden talks mark the first meeting in two years between the northern Houthi rebels and the Hadi government that has been backed since 2015 by the Saudi-led coalition.

The last round of talks, hosted by Kuwait in 2016, collapsed after more than three months of negotiations with no breakthrough.

* This story was edited by Ahram Online

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