RIMBO: UN chief Antonio Guterres announced on Thursday (Dec 13) a series of breakthroughs in talks with rivals in Yemen conflict, including a ceasefire for a vital port.
The Yemeni foreign minister and rebel leader shook hands in a highly symbolic gesture on the seventh day of UN-brokered peace talks in Sweden.
The conflict has triggered what the UN calls world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 14 million Yemenis now at brink of mass starvation.
Guterres, who flew in to Sweden late Wednesday, announced that Yemeni government and Huthi rebels had agreed on a ceasefire in port of Hodeida, main entry point for imported food and aid.
He said the United Nations would play a “leading role” at Red Sea port, which is currently controlled by the rebels.
In addition, rivals have reached a “mutual understanding” on Yemen’s third city of Taiz, scene of some of most intense battles in conflict.
He said a new round of talks would take place at end of January.
International pressure has been mounting to halt fighting between the Iran-linked Huthis and government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, backed by Saudi Arabia and its military allies, with US Senate, Saudi Arabia and the UAE honing in on fragile talks.
The warring parties have been in rural Swedish village of Rimbo for a week to try to hammer out agreement on a number of key issues.
A source inside talks had said earlier that mediators remained “positive” although there was “disagreement on points of proposals”.
The rebels control both the Red Sea port of Hodeida and 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.
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Guterres flew into Sweden late Wednesday to attend closing session, which had been pushed back two hours from its announced time on Thursday.
The foreign ministers of Britain, UAE and Saudi Arabia announced they were also in Rimbo for last day of negotiations.
Britain’s Jeremy Hunt notably met with both government and rebels at the talks.
UN special envoy Martin Griffiths, who brokered the talks, was expected to brief Security Council on Yemen on Friday.
Anger at the human cost of war, as well as outrage over the killing of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi consulate in Istanbul, have prompted a harder line in international community over the Yemen war, and particularly role of Saudi-led coalition.
The US Senate on Wednesday voted to advance a resolution that ends US backing for Saudi-led intervention by 60 votes to 39, with 11 Republicans joining Democrats to back measure.
The final vote is look for to take place on Thursday. However, if upper house approves the resolution, it is likely to run aground in the lower House of Representatives where Republicans hold majority until Jan 3.
Both the rebels and government alliance stand accused of failing to protect civilians. The UN last year blacklisted the Saudi-led coalition for the killing and maiming of children in air raids.
The Sweden talks mark the first meeting in two years between the northern Huthi 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.