Omani mediators in Yemen to broker new truce

SANAA: Omani mediators arrived in Yemen Saturday to discuss a new truce between the Iran-backed Huthi rebels and Saudi Arabia, an airport source said, amid renewed moves to end the conflict. Diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict have multiplied since the Yemeni government’s main foreign backer Saudi Arabia signed a Chinese-brokered deal to restore relations with Iran last month. The top Saudi and Iranian diplomats met in Beijing Thursday, resuming diplomatic relations and pledging to work together to bring “security and stability” to their turbulent region.

Nearly a decade of war in Yemen has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, both directly and indirectly, and triggered what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The Huthis seized the capital Sanaa in 2014, triggering the conflict with the government which has been backed for eight years by a military coalition led by regional heavyweight Riyadh. The rapprochement between the two great regional rivals, Shiite-majority Iran and mainly Sunni Saudi Arabia, has fueled hopes of reduced tensions in the Middle East, particularly in Yemen.

“A delegation from Oman has arrived in Sanaa to hold talks with Huthi leaders about the truce and the peace process,” a source at the capital’s airport, who requested anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to journalists, told AFP. The source said the delegation was accompanied by Mohammed Abdelsalam, the rebels’ chief negotiator, who lives in Muscat. Oman has forged a reputation as a discreet mediator in Gulf disputes often involving Iran. Abdelsalam himself tweeted that he had arrived in Sanaa with the Omani delegation, but without providing further details.

The rebels’ news agency, Saba, quoted Abdelsalam as saying the Huthis’ demands included “an end to the (Saudi) aggression, the total lifting of the blockade, and payment of the salaries of all civil servants using revenues from oil and gas”. Abdelsalam added that, “Our just demands are the departure of the occupying forces from Yemen, compensation and reconstruction.” The United Nations special envoy on Yemen, Hans Grundberg, was in the Omani capital this week for talks on “the political process”.

A Yemeni government source, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, told AFP that the Saudis and Huthis have agreed in principle on a six-month truce to pave the way for three months of talks on establishing a two-year “transition” for the war-torn country. The country enjoyed a six-month lull in fighting during a ceasefire last year, but that truce was not renewed after it expired on October 2. Iran views the United States as an arch-enemy, but on Wednesday welcomed a call by the American special envoy for Yemen to back “the political process that we hope is coming”.

Also Saturday, the head of the Huthis’ prisoners of war committee told rebel media that 13 prisoners freed by the Saudis had arrived in Sanaa, in exchange for one Saudi released earlier. Saudi officials did not comment. In early March, the UN confirmed that the rebels and Yemen’s internationally recognized government had agreed to exchange more than 880 prisoners. – AFP

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