Proposed UN-led talks in Sweden mark a “critical opportunity” to bring peace to war-torn Yemen after four years of conflict, a top Emirati official said Tuesday.
The comments from the United Arab Emirates, which is part of the pro-government coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen, came as UN envoy Martin Griffiths is in the rebel-held capital Sanaa seeking to push forward the planned talks.
“Evacuating wounded Houthi fighters from Sanaa once again demonstrates the Yemeni government & the Arab coalition’s support for peace,” the UAE’s state minister for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said in a tweet.
Fifty wounded rebels left on a UN-chartered plane Monday for neutral Oman to be treated, in what was termed “a confidence-building” measure ahead of any talks.
The conflict, which erupted in late 2014, has brought the impoverished country to brink of famine, and the UN has described Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.
Nearly 10,000 people are said to have been killed since the Saudi-led pro-government coalition intervened in the conflict in early 2015, according to the World Health Organization.
Human rights groups fear the actual toll is far higher.
No date has yet been set for the talks, which are due to be held in Sweden, but hopes have been building that they could go ahead this week.
“We believe Sweden offers a critical opportunity to successfully engage in a political solution for Yemen,” Gargash said in his tweet.
He added that “a sustainable Yemeni-led political solution offers the best chance to ending the current crisis.”
UN envoy Griffiths on Monday said on Twitter that he was “pleased to confirm” 50 injured Yemenis were to be treated on neutral ground in Muscat and “urged all Yemenis to work together in pursuit of peace and stability”.
The evacuation marked a key step in kickstarting stalled negotiations as world powers press for an end to the devastating conflict.
Saudi Arabia and its allies, who back Yemen’s embattled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, had agreed the 50 wounded combatants, 50 escorts and a team of Yemeni and UN doctors could be flown out to Muscat — a condition set by the Houthis for negotiations.
The Houthis have also called for guarantees for their safety if they leave the country — a key condition which led to the collapse of earlier talks planned for September in Geneva.
Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled al-Jarallah told reporters that a Houthi delegation was now set to leave Sanaa for Stockholm on Tuesday morning together with his country’s ambassador to Yemen.
The oil-rich Gulf emirate, which has been a mediator in the devastating conflict, hosted Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom for talks in Kuwait City on Monday.