The UN’s special envoy to Yemen expressed confidence before the first day of peace talks between rebels and the internationally recognised Yemeni government – despite the Houthis failing to arrive in Switzerland.
Speaking at press conference in Geneva on Wednesday, Martin Griffiths said despite delays in the arrival of the Houthi delegation, he was confident representatives will attend Thursday’s UN-sponsored discussions to help end the three-year war that has killed thousands.
Griffiths said he hoped to see both parties in the same room. Previous reports suggested there would not be face-to-face meetings with intermediaries used for communication.
The meeting will be the first UN-led peace talks in two years, although chances of anything more than an agreement to further discussions are slim.
The rebels said they were stranded in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, on the eve of the peace talks, unable to “secure authorisation” from the Saudi-Emirati-led military coalition for a plane to transport its delegation and wounded fighters out of the country, according to the Houthi’s Al Masirah TV.
Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam tweeted on Tuesday the UN “made promises on facilitating the transport of the wounded … abroad”, and accused the world body of stalling.
Griffiths said talks with the Yemeni government will start Wednesday night, and efforts were being made to ensure the Houthis’ presence.
“We are working at it. I think this issue will sort itself out. Yemen talks have always had a delay to begin. We are going to make it happen,” he said.
Turning the page
The UN envoy told reporters in Geneva there was no military solution to the Yemeni conflict.
“It has been a process in Yemen. This is an opportunity for that page to be turned. We are talking about consultations – this is not a negotiation – this a process. We want to understand the issues of both parties,” Griffiths said.
“This is a Yemeni-Yemeni discussion, it’s not for other countries to determine.”
Griffiths will act as the intermediary between government officials and Houthi representatives.
While the Houthis control Sanaa and much of northern Yemen, the Saudi-Emirati-led coalition controls its airspace.
In 2014, the Houthis seized Sanaa and drove the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi into exile, marking a major turning point in Yemen’s long-running conflict.
The following year, Saudi Arabia and allies formed the regional military coalition to back Hadi’s government in its fight against the rebels.
More than 10,000 people have been killed since 2015 – a death toll that has not been updated in years and is likely much higher. The UN describes Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian situation with millions on the brink of famine because of the war.
The last round of peace talks collapsed in 2016 when 108 days of negotiations in Kuwait failed to broker a power-sharing agreement.
The Houthi delegation was then grounded in Oman for three months on its way back to Yemen, blocked from returning by the coalition.