A delegation from Yemen’s Saudi-backed government left for Sweden on Wednesday to attend peace talks with members of the Iran-aligned Houthi group, in a renewed UN push to end a war that has brought economic ruin and famine.
One representative of the internationally recognized government, Abdullah al-Alimi, tweeted that the talks were “a true opportunity for peace,” before his team flew out of the Saudi capital Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - leaders of a Western-backed coalition battling the Houthis to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government - want to exit a war that had dragged on for four years.
Western allies, which provide arms and intelligence to the coalition, have ramped up pressure on them to find a way to end a conflict that killed tens of thousands of people and left more than 8 million facing famine.
The Saudi-led alliance intervened in the civil war in 2015 after the Houthi movement ousted Hadi’s government from the Yemeni capital Sanaa in 2014, but has faced military stalemate since seizing the southern port of Aden.
Seeking to reinvigorate peace efforts, UN special envoy Martin Griffiths secured some confidence-building measures, including the evacuation of Houthi wounded, to help persuade the movement to attend the talks in Sweden.
The Houthi delegation arrived there on Tuesday, having failed to turn up for previous talks in Geneva in September.
Truce, Prisoner Swap
The latest round, to be held in a renovated castle outside Stockholm, will focus on agreeing other confidence-building steps and the formation of a transitional governing body.
It was not clear if the warring parties would hold direct talks or if Griffiths would shuttle between the two sides.
The UN envoy is seeking agreement on reopening Sanaa airport, swapping prisoners and securing a truce in the Houthi-held port of Hodeidah, now a focus of the war. This could lead to a wider ceasefire that would halt coalition air strikes and Houthi missile attacks on Saudi cities.
The United Nations is trying to avert a full-scale assault on Hodeidah, the entry point for most of Yemen’s commercial goods and aid. Both sides have reinforced positions in the Red Sea city in sporadic battles after a de-escalation last month.
International outrage over the Oct. 2 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate has refocused attention on the Yemen war and scrutiny over Saudi Arabia’s activities in the region.
The US Senate is set to consider a resolution to end support for the coalition in the war. The United States last month halted refueling support for coalition warplanes, whose air strikes have been blamed for the death of thousands of civilians.