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Yemen ex-govt., Houthis will not have face-to-face peace talks in Geneva: officials

Yemeni men walk through the rubble and debris of a destroyed petrol station that was hit by a Saudi-led airstrike in the capital Sana’a, on May 27, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Yemen’s warring parties, including the Houthi Ansarullah movement and the so-called government of former President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, will not meet “face-to-face” at the upcoming peace negotiations brokered by the United Nations in the Swiss city of Geneva, Hadi’s officials say.

According to Hadi’s foreign minister Khaled al-Yamani on Sunday, the talks, that will likely focus on a prisoner exchange deal, “will not be face-to-face and depend on how well the UN envoy manages the two sides.”

“Our expectations are limited to the possibility of progress in the question of prisoners and detainees,” he said, adding, “I think this is the chance to succeed in securing the release of prisoners, and I believe the other party is also willing and ready.”

The world body has already invited the two sides to the Swiss city for negotiations, which open on Thursday. Last month, the UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said that the consultations were due to begin in Geneva on September 6 on a framework for peace talks and confidence-building measures.

The UN, Griffiths said at the time, was primarily trying to reach an agreement between the Saudi-backed side and Yemen's ruling Houthis “on the issues essential to ending the war and on a national unity government in which everyone participates.”

He has also said that the talks are focused on carving a path forward to revive UN-backed negotiations, which broke down in two years ago.

Both parties have confirmed that they are sending high-level delegations to Geneva, but Hadi’s officials believe that expectations of a breakthrough are low.

Hadi’s officials say the talks might also be on the fate of embattled city of Hudaydah, which is now the frontline of the Yemen war, with Saudi and Emirati-led forces ceaselessly pounding it in a bid to seize it from the fighters of the popular Houthi movement.

Meanwhile, Abdullah al-Olaimi, head of Hadi’s office and a member of the Geneva delegation, said that “the consultations will be indirect, unless there is some progress that can be made directly.”

The UN, for its part, also set a low bar for the success of negotiations, the first since 106 days of talks in Kuwait failed to yield an agreement between Hadi’s delegation and that of Houthis back in 2016.

“The aim of this first round of consultations is to better understand how committed both parties are to the framework for formal negotiations... and to come to some conclusions about how those negotiations may start,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Sunday.

Saudi Arabia and some of its allies, including the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Sudan, launched a brutal war, code-named Operation Decisive Storm, against Yemen in March 2015 in an attempt to reinstall Hadi and crush the Ansarullah movement, which plays a significant role in aiding the Yemeni army in defending the impoverished country against the invading coalition.

The movement has been running state affairs in the absence of an effective administration since the onset of the imposed war.

The imposed war initially consisted of a bombing campaign, but was later coupled with a naval blockade and the deployment of ground forces to Yemen.

Some 15,000 Yemenis have been killed and thousands more injured since the onset of the Saudi-led aggression.

The Saudi-led war has also taken a heavy toll on the country's infrastructure, destroying many hospitals, schools, and factories. The United Nations has said that a record 22.2 million Yemenis are in dire need of food, including 8.4 million threatened by severe hunger.

Several Western countries, the US and Britain in particular, are also accused of being complicit in the ongoing aggression as they supply the Riyadh regime with advanced weapons and military equipment as well as logistical and intelligence assistance.

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