Talks are expected to begin today between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels, who have been fighting a fierce civil war since 2015.
A Houthi delegation arrived in Sweden late on Tuesday for the talks, accompanied by the United Nations envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths. Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom confirmed their arrival, writing on Twitter that “the Houthi delegation has arrived in Sweden together with Special Envoys from UN, Sweden and Kuwait”.
As a confidence-boosting measure, it was announced yesterday that a large prisoner swap had been agreed between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels, with a Yemeni government official reporting that between 1,500-2,000 members of pro-government forces and between 1,000-1,500 rebels would be released. The International Committee of the Red Cross welcomed the move, with a spokesperson saying “This is one step in the right direction towards the building of mutual trust among Yemeni communities.”
Representatives from the Yemeni government are expected to arrive in Sweden shortly, having departed from the Saudi capital Riyadh. Talks are expected to focus on additional confidence-building measures such as the status of the port of Hudaydah and the international airport in Sana’a.
The meeting is the first time in two years that Houthis and government representatives have attended talks together. The meeting followed increasing pressure on the Saudi and Western governments which provide military assistance to the Yemeni government to ease the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
The UN estimates that 57,000 people have died since the beginning of the conflict and estimates that 24 million, around 75% of the population, will require humanitarian assistance in 2019. International aid organisations have welcomed the talks and David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee, said the negotiations were a “stepping stone to longer-term hope”, while calling for “an immediate cessation of hostilities”.