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Houthi rebel delegation arrives in Sweden for Yemen peace talks

Houthi delegates arrived in Sweden on Tuesday [AFP]

Date of publication: 5 December, 2018

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Houthi delegates have arrived in Sweden for peace talks with Yemen's government later this week.

A Yemeni rebel delegation arrived in Sweden on Tuesday, accompanied by a UN peace envoy, to attend crucial peace talks with Yemen's government to end the country's ongoing war.

The Houthi rebels arrived on a Kuwaiti plane from Sanaa following a prisoner swap deal and the evacuation of 50 wounded insurgents for treatment in Oman in a major boost to peace efforts.

Despite much hinging on the meeting, the UN's humanitarian aid chief has said he doesn't expect an "easy or rapid process" to end the devastating conflict.

Mark Lowcock, head of the world body's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told The Associated Press that the "onus" in the peace talks is on Yemen's government and the Houthi rebels to "take this seriously and act in a responsible way".

Last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also played down hopes for an imminent breakthrough on ending Yemen's brutal war.

"I don't want to raise too much expectations, but we are working hard in order to make sure that we can start meaningful peace talks still this year," Guterres told reporters ahead of the G20 summit which took place in Buenos Aires.

OCHA says $21.9 billion is needed next year for food, shelter, health care, education, protection and other assistance worldwide. It predicts nearly 132 million people in 42 countries will need assistance.

The worst humanitarian crisis is in Yemen, where the government and a Saudi-led coalition have been locked in a largely stalemated war with the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels since March 2015. The fighting has claimed tens of thousands of lives and pushed the country to the brink of famine.

The executive director of the UN's World Food Programme, David Beasley, meanwhile said an upcoming report on hunger levels in Yemen will show a sharp increase. "We're seeing the severe hunger rate spike from 8 million to 12 million (people)," he said.

"I've heard many say that this is a country on the brink of catastrophe," Beasley said. "This is not a country on the brink of a catastrophe. This is a country that is in a catastrophe."

"Let's hope that these peace talks that start tomorrow or the day after will yield to a path forward to providing some hope for the children of this country," he added.

The Houthis and Yemen's government are set to meet later this week following a series of confidence-building measures. 

More than 10,000 people are said to have been killed since the Saudi-led pro-government coalition intervened in the conflict in early 2015, according to the World Health Organisation, although human rights groups are adamant that the actual toll is far higher.

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

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