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Yemen government team heads to crunch peace talks with rebels

AFP  |  Rimbo (Sweden) 

representatives were expected to join a rebel delegation in on Wednesday for high-stakes peace talks aimed at ending four years of devastating war.

A 12-member team from the Saudi-backed government headed by left early Wednesday, sources told AFP, a day after rebel delegates landed in accompanied by the UN

The first talks since 2016 are widely seen as the best chance yet for peace, as the international community throws its weight behind efforts to resolve a conflict that has pushed the Arab world's poorest country to the brink of famine.

The government delegation was carrying the "hopes of the Yemeni people to achieve sustainable peace", the of exiled Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's office, Abdullah al-Alimi, said in a tweet.

The delegation had delayed its departure until the rebels had arrived in after they failed to show up for the last UN bid to convene peace talks in September, sources close to the government told AFP.

On that occasion the rebels complained they had received insufficient guarantees of safe passage through the blockade enforced by a Saudi-led coalition since March 2015.

The rebels flew in to on a Kuwaiti plane from on Tuesday, accompanied by UN Martin Griffiths, who had promised to travel with them to allay their concerns.

On Wednesday, a half-dozen members of the rebel delegation could be seen on the grounds of the venue for the talks, the -- a large estate with a golf course in the countryside 20 kilometres northeast of

Bundled up against the wintry cold, rebel delegates could be seen chatting and walking on the grounds, which were cordoned off by police.

The rebels' arrival followed two major confidence-boosting gestures -- a prisoner swap deal and the evacuation of 50 wounded insurgents from the rebel-held capital for treatment in neutral

The hailed the peace talks in as a "necessary and vital first step" and called on all parties to "cease any ongoing hostilities."

The United Arab Emirates, another key backer of the Yemeni government, said the planned talks offered a "critical opportunity" to bring peace to a country in the grip of what the UN has described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

No date has been announced for the start of the negotiations, but sources said they could begin Thursday.

The of the 12-member rebel delegation, Mohammed Abdelsalam, said it would "spare no effort to make a success of the talks to restore peace and end the aggression".

At the same time, he called on rebel fighters to remain "vigilant against any attempt at a military escalation on the ground".

The announcement of a deal on Tuesday to swap hundreds of detainees was hailed by the as "one step in the right direction towards the building of mutual trust".

The ICRC will oversee the exchange after the first round of talks in The agreement, struck by the UN in weeks of shuttle diplomacy, came after the wounded rebels were flown out for treatment on Monday, meeting a key rebel precondition for joining the talks.

said between 1,500 and 2,000 pro-government personnel and between 1,000 and 1,500 rebels would be released.

On the government side, they include former Mahmoud al-Subaihi, who has been held by rebels since they overran the capital in late 2014, and Hadi's brother Nasser, a general and former senior intelligence

Thousands of prisoners have been captured by both sides in the grinding war of attrition that has devastated at a cost of nearly 10,000 lives since the Saudi-led coalition intervened in March 2015, according to figures.

Human rights groups put the death toll far higher.

The resulting humanitarian crisis, already the world's worst, will deteriorate in 2019, the UN said on Tuesday, warning the number of people needing is set to jump by four million.

Roughly 75 per cent of Yemen's population will need humanitarian assistance in 2019, UN told reporters in

If the negotiations in Sweden show results, "it is possible that we could find by the second half of the year that the extreme edge could get taken off the suffering of those people who have no form of income."

International support for the peace bid has been spurred by UN warnings that 14 million Yemenis are at risk of famine.

The on Wednesday called for the two sides to put a halt to the fighting.

"needs an immediate ceasefire and concrete steps to restore public services," it said in a statement.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, December 05 2018. 17:40 IST