Yemen war rivals lash out as UN talks start

Talks between Yemen's government and the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah), locked in a devastating war for nearly four years, opened Thursday (December 6th) as tension remained high despite what the UN envoy called a "critical opportunity".

Yemen's government and the Houthis doubled down on their rival demands Thursday, just moments before hard-won consultations opened in Sweden under the auspices of the UN.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, who heads the Saudi-backed government's delegation to the talks, told AFP his team would follow through with a planned prisoner swap with the Houthis -- but refused to compromise on the flashpoint port city of al-Hodeidah, home to Yemen's most valuable port.

"The Houthi militias must withdraw from the city of al-Hodeidah, and its port, and hand it over to the legitimate government, and specifically internal security forces," al-Yamani said.

Al-Hodeidah is on the agenda at the talks, slated to run for one week. Not on the table are negotiations on a solution to the conflict between the Saudi-backed government of Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Houthis, according to UN envoy Martin Griffiths.

The talks in Rimbo, Sweden -- a village some 60 kilometres north of Stockholm -- have been months in the making, with the UN sending its special envoy to Sanaa to personally escort the Houthi delegation to Sweden.

"During the coming days, we will have a critical opportunity to give momentum to the peace process," Griffiths told reporters.

"There is a way we can resolve the conflict," he said, adding that the Security Council was "united" in its support for a resolution to the conflict.

"Remember these are consultations. We are not yet beginning the process of negotiations."

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