Sponsored peace talks for Yemen start in Sweden

Yemen UN urges good faith as ‘milestone’ talks underway in Sweden

The global Red Cross says it will oversee the implementation of an agreement between Yemen's warring sides to carry out a prisoner exchange, hailing it as "one of the first positive steps for Yemen" as peace talks got under way in Sweden.

The UN peace negotiations got underway in the Swedish capital city of Stockholm on Thursday amid continuous obstruction attempts by theHouthi militias violating the declared truce in Yemen's Hodeidah port city.

Hopes were high that the talks wouldn't deteriorate into further violence as in the past, and that the prisoner exchange would be an important first step toward building confidence between highly distrustful adversaries.

On Thursday UN Special envoy Martin Griffiths announced that all parties agreed on a prisoner swap. At least 5,000 prisoners are to come, according to the International Committee of the Red cross.

They are slated to last for one week, according to a source in the UN.

Saudi Arabia and its allies accuse the rebels of smuggling arms from Iran through Hodeida, a charge Tehran denies.

"During the coming days we will have a critical opportunity to give momentum to the peace process", Griffiths told reporters as the rival delegations gathered in Sweden.

Both the internationally-recognized government, which is backed by a US -sponsored and Saudi-led coalition, and the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels say they are striving for peace.

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There is new hope of ending the world's worst humanitarian crisis of recent times: the civil war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and its allies also allowed the Huthis to evacuate 50 wounded rebels from Sanaa for medical treatment in Oman.

The Yemeni government also plans on requesting that the rebel Houthis relinquish their control over the port of city of Hodeida. Sources in both camps have held firm to their demands in Sweden, as battles continue to rage back home, particularly in the flashpoint Red Sea city of Hodeida. "They have not been able to take it, and they will not be able to take it as long as the people of Yemen are fighting".

Twenty million people, or 70 percent, of Yemenis are "food insecure", U.N Humanitarian Coordinator Lisa Grande said, meaning they do not have reliable access to sufficient amounts of nutritious food.

Meanwhile, the United Nations food agency said Thursday it is planning to rapidly scale up food distribution to help another 4 million people in Yemen over the next two months, more than a 50-percent increase in the number reached now - if access can be maintained in the war-stricken country.

The target population includes some 3 million women and children who need special support to prevent malnutrition. Verhoosel said the rollout will require "safe, immediate and unimpeded access for food and other vital supplies".

Griffiths joined her at the presser and said that the talks represented "a milestone".

Aid agencies and the UN have put relentless pressure on the Saudis, backed by the United Arab Emirates, not to mount a full-scale assault on the port, but the Saudis see its capture as the gateway to a military victory that has eluded them since 2015. "You have the command of your future".

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