BFF-38 UN plane to evacuate wounded Yemen rebels ahead of peace talks

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UN plane to evacuate wounded Yemen rebels ahead of peace talks

SANAA, Dec 3, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Fifty wounded rebels will be evacuated from
the Yemeni capital for medical treatment Monday, a Saudi-led military
coalition said, as the UN envoy landed in Sanaa ahead of planned peace talks
in Sweden.

The evacuation on a UN chartered plane marks a key step in kickstarting
stalled negotiations as world powers press for an end to the brutal four-year
conflict that has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.

The fate of wounded rebels had been a stumbling block to the start of a
previous round of aborted peace talks in September.

The UN is trying to persuade the Huthi Shiite insurgents and the Saudi-
backed government to sit down at the negotiating table this month.

Coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki said a UN chartered flight would
evacuate 50 wounded combatants, accompanied by three Yemeni doctors and a UN
doctor, from Sanaa to the Omani capital, in a statement carried by the
official Saudi Press Agency.

Wounded militants were transported across the capital, controlled by the
Iran-backed Huthis since 2014, in ambulances as they made their way to the
long-defunct Sanaa International Airport on Monday.

Inside the airport departure hall, other wounded rebels — some in suits
and wheelchairs — lined up awaiting their evacuation to Muscat.

– Griffiths in Sanaa –

UN envoy Martin Griffiths landed in Sanaa on Monday, an AFP photographer at
the airport said, for talks with rebels ahead of yet another attempt to bring
warring parties to the negotiating table.

His visit comes as pressure mounts to reopen the rebel-held airport, which
has been shut for more than three years following air raids by the Saudi-led
coalition.

The UN source said the reopening of Sanaa International Airport was a
priority at the planned peace talks.

A UN panel of experts this year said the “effective closure” of Sanaa
airport since 2015, when the Saudi-led alliance intervened in the Yemen war,
constituted a violation of international humanitarian law.

The Huthis had announced at the weekend that the airport could now meet
the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to
“receive civilian flights”.

The ICAO has not released a statement on Sanaa airport.

– ‘No excuses’ –

Yemen’s information minister, Moammer al-Eryani, said the government had
agreed to the Sweden talks as a first step towards “facilitating
negotiations” and to end “all excuses invoked by the coupists (rebels) to
evade finding peace”.

The proposed UN-brokered peace talks have been backed by both the rebels
and the Saudi-led government and were expected to take place in Sweden this
week.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, however, has played down the early
December schedule and said he hoped talks would start “this year”.

Iran also offered support on Monday for the planned negotiations, calling
for an end to “the brutal aggression” on Yemen.

Tehran also said it was ready to cooperate with the international community
to resolve the crisis.

World powers should put “pressure on the exporters of arms to the
aggressors to facilitate the peace process in Yemen and let the Yemeni people
decide their country’s fate free from the outsiders’ interference,” the
Iranian foreign ministry said.

The rebels have said they will attend the talks in Sweden if they are
guaranteed safe passage.

A Huthi spokesman also said the rebels were ready to hold talks “starting
with a ceasefire” by the rival coalition, at a press conference broadcast on
the insurgents’ Al-Masirah television.

Previous talks planned for September in Geneva failed to get under way as
the Huthi delegation never left Sanaa, saying the United Nations could not
guarantee their safe return.

The rebels also accused the world body of failing to secure the evacuation
of wounded rebels to Oman, a relatively neutral party in the Yemen war.

Talks initially broke down in 2016, when 108 days of negotiations in Kuwait
failed to yield a deal and left rebel delegates stranded in Oman for three
months.

UN aid chief Mark Lowcock warned last week that Yemen was “on the brink of
a major catastrophe”.

His comments followed renewed deadly clashes between Huthi rebels and pro-
government forces in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, which is vital for the
flow of humanitarian aid and controlled by the rebels.

The United Nations has described Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian
disaster, with at least 10,000 people killed since the coalition intervened
in 2015.

Rights groups fear the actual toll is far higher.

BSS/AFP/RY/1935 hrs