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Yemen peace talks underway in Sweden

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Yemen peace talks underway in Sweden
Yemen peace talks underway in Sweden. picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Al Zekri
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UN-brokered peace talks between the warring parties in Yemen's conflict began on Thursday in Sweden. The meeting is the latest attempt to end a civil war that has ravaged the country and brought it to the brink of famine.

Representatives of Yemen's government, the UN special envoy Martin Griffiths and members of the Houthi rebel militia are participating in the talks, which are set in the town of Rimbo, north of Stockholm. They are slated to run for one week.

The Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran, have been locked in a power struggle with the Saudi-backed Yemeni government since late 2014, when the rebels took hold of the capital Sanaa.

Direct talks took place previously in 2015 and 2016, but both attempts were unsuccessful. Griffiths had attempted to bring the two sides together for UN-sponsored talks in Geneva in September of this year, but the rebels failed to appear.

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Among the reasons were disagreements between Saudi Arabia and Iran over staging a ceasefire, Houthi refusals to surrender major cities and the rebel's capturing of a military base north of Sanaa.

Confidence building

Sweden's foreign minister Margot Wallstrom opened the talks with a press conference, where she wished both sides the strength to find "compromise and courage" on the difficult task ahead.

Griffiths joined her at the presser and said that the talks represented "a milestone."

"During the coming days we will have a critical opportunity to give momentum to the peace process," the UN special envoy said.

UN officials have lowered expectations ahead of the talks, but they hope that minor steps can be achieved to address Yemen's worsening humanitarian crisis.

Read more: In Yemen's war, locals struggle to stay neutral

This round of meetings has been focused on building confidence among the warring parties, with pre-talk measures that included a prisoner swap agreement and the evacuation of wounded rebels for medical treatment.

Yemen to seek Hodeida port

The agenda features topics such as the opening of Sanaa airport, lifting the Houthi-imposed siege on Yemen's southwestern city of Taiz and fine tuning the details of the prisoner swap deal.

Yemen's foreign minister Khaled al-Yamani, said ahead of the talks that his government would propose a four-point initiative "demanding the departure of the militia from the western coast and the handing over of the area to the government."

The Yemeni government also plans on requesting that the rebel Houthis relinquish their control over the port of city of Hodeida.

Yemen's war has left at least 10,000 people dead and generated the world's worst humanitarian crisis. International pressure has mounted for the two sides to end the conflict. The United States has called for a ceasefire and reduced some of its logistical aid for the Saudi coalition, while Iran has also signaled support for the talks.

jcg/ng (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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