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07/12/2018 | Military offensive still open if rebels reject Hodeida pullout: Yemen govt

AFP

A government offensive on Yemen's Hodeida remains an option if rebels refuse to withdraw from the port city, a minister said Friday, as the warring sides met for UN-brokered talks.

 

"We are now in negotiations in response to calls by the international community, the UN and the UN envoy. We are still looking into means towards peace," said Agriculture Minister Othman al-Mujalli.

"But if they (the rebels) are not responsive, we have many options, including that of military decisiveness," he told reporters in response to a question on the rebel-held city. "And we are ready."

Talks between Yemen's Saudi-backed government and Huthi rebels, linked to Iran, opened Thursday in Sweden -- the first meeting between the two sides in two years in a conflict that has pushed impoverished Yemen to the brink of mass starvation.

Rights groups have urged both sides to make concessions in the fight for control over one of the world's poorest countries to spare further civilian suffering -- as 14 million people edge towards famine and one child dies every 10 minutes of preventable causes.

- Hodeida deadlock -

While the days leading up to the gathering saw the government and rebels agreeing on a prisoner swap deal and the evacuation of wounded insurgents for medical treatment in Oman, both parties traded threats as the talks began. The two sides have not yet met face-to-face.

No closing date has been set for the meeting, where talks are expected to focus the fate of Hodeida, a city on Yemen's western coastline that houses the country's most valuable port.

The government accuses the Huthis of arms smuggling through Hodeida -- also a conduit for 90 percent of food imports -- and has demanded the rebels withdraw from the port.

Mujalli said the government was not open to negotiations on control of the port. The UN, he said, could play a "supervisory" role, but he rejected the idea of placing management of the port in the hands of a third party.

The Saudi-led military coalition, which includes troops trained by the US and UAE, has for months led an offensive to retake Hodeida.

The battle has sparked fears for more than 150,000 civilians trapped in the city. Saudi Arabia and its allies accuse the rebels of smuggling arms from Iran through Hodeida, a charge Tehran denies.

UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths, who has pushed for months for the Yemen talks, urged both parties to spare Hodeida.

"It's the humanitarian pipeline to the rest of the country," Griffiths told reporters Thursday.

- Sanaa airport -

Negotiations will also cover a prisoner swap between the two sides and the potential reopening of Sanaa airport, located in the rebel-held capital and largely shut down for three years. The Saudi-led government camp controls Yemeni airspace and maritime borders.

The government is demanding planes be searched in one of two government-held areas -- Aden or Sayoun -- en route to or from rebel-held Sanaa.

"We are keen on the opening of Sanaa airport, and we demand the opening of Sanaa airport and we know that the Yemeni citizen should have the right to reach any country in the world through Sanaa airport," said Abdulaziz Jabari, a presidential advisor and member of a Yemeni government delegation at the talks.

"But... we are looking into who will supervise Sanaa airport," Jabari said, adding that the airport could serve as a hub for domestic flights.

Saudi Arabia and its allies joined the Yemeni government's fight against the rebels in 2015, triggering what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

AFP (Chile)

 



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