Yemen War: First Round of Talks Begin but Peace seems Far Away
UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths (Photo: Twitter)

Sweden's foreign minister Margot Wallstrom, opened the Yemen peace talks at a castle in Rimbo, a town north of capital city Stockholm, advising the warring parties to find "compromise and courage" as they embark on the difficult task ahead.

"Now it is up to you, the Yemini parties," she said. "You have the command of your future."

The UN's special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths said the parties had a great opportunity in Rimbo: "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. "There is a way we can resolve the conflict," Griffiths said, adding that the Security Council was "united" in its support for a resolution to the conflict.

"It will be done if there is a will to make it happen," he added.

The talks mark the first attempt in two years to broker an end to the Yemen conflict, which has killed at least 10,000 people since 2015, afflicted famine on 14 million people and triggered what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

But representatives of the two sides, Houthi rebel leaders and Yemen’s internationally acknowledged government backed by Saudi Arabia have already begun posturing. Both sides stated initial demands which have already cast a pall on the first round of talks.

A top Houthi rebel official threatened on Thursday to bar UN planes from using the Yemeni capital's airport unless peace talks in Sweden lead to its full reopening.

"If the Yemeni capital's airport is not opened to the Yemeni people in the peace talks in Sweden, I call on the (rebel) political council and government to close the airport for all planes," Mohammed Ali al-Huthi tweeted.

The Yemeni government hit back, demanding the rebels withdraw from the flashpoint port city of Hodeida.

Yemen's foreign ministry Khaled al-Yamini demanded the "coupist militias withdraw fully from the western coast and hand the area over to the legitimate government" via Twitter -- a reference to rebel-held Hodeida, home to Yemen's most valuable port.

Yemen's foreign minister speaking at the talks laid down additional demands such as wanting an unconditional surrender from the rebel faction. Speaking to AlJazeera, Khaled al-Yamini said, “"They [the Houthis] should withdraw from the institutions of the state and hand them back to the legitimate government." He added, "They should respect the will of the international community and surrender their arms, ammunitions and missiles."

Al-Yamini also said the exiled government wants the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2216. Resolution 2216 stipulates that Houthi rebels have to withdraw from all conquered territory and give up arms.

However, the Houthi rebels have refused to abide by UN Resolution 2216, saying the exiled government does not have any legitimacy.

With these developments in just the first day of talks, peace in Yemen indeed seems a long way off. (With PTI inputs)