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Home / World / Peace talks in Yemen begin in Sweden as the humanitarian crisis deepens: NPR

Peace talks in Yemen begin in Sweden as the humanitarian crisis deepens: NPR



The opening press conference of the Yemeni peace talks at Johannesberg Castle in Rimbo, Sweden, will feature Swedish and US officials as well as Yemeni and Houthi rebels delegates.

Stina Stjernkvist / AFP / Getty Images


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Stina Stjernkvist / AFP / Getty Images

Swedish and UN officials as well as Yemeni and Houthi rebel delegates attend Thursday's opening press conference on the Yemeni peace talks at Johannesberg Castle in Rimbo, Sweden. Stina Stjernkvist / AFP / Getty Pictures

Update at 15:47. ET

For the first time in more than two years, the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels are having peace talks, with half of Yemen's population starving as a result of the civil war.

Representatives of both sides stood opposite face in a castle in Sweden.

The United Nations-mediated negotiation was not expected to produce an immediate breakthrough.

"At the moment, the main thing is to build trust and create the conditions for major negotiations to take place next year," says Ruth Sherlock of NPR.

However, the talks started positively. Both sides agreed to a prisoner exchange, releasing thousands of people. US Ambassador Martin Griffiths described it as a hopeful start.

"The prisoner exchange was supposed to take months to secure," Sherlock says. "Now Griffiths wants to use these talks to agree on other confidence-building measures."

Finally, he hopes for a truce near an important port or the reopening of an airport so that resources can enter the country.

The civil war in Yemen, which began more than three years ago, is devastating and millions of people are threatened by famine. Millions were displaced and thousands of civilians were killed.

Yemen is home to the worst cholera outbreak in the world and hunger is a growing problem.

The U. N. estimates that a child under five dies every ten minutes in Yemen.

The Houthi rebels who hold the capital of Sana'a are supported by Iran. The Yemeni government is supported by the Saudi government with US support.

The coalition led by Saudi Arabia has launched an air raid that has killed many civilians, including children. The United Nations believes that some of these air strikes may have been war crimes.

Coalition air strikes have caused the majority of direct civilian deaths in Yemen. However, according to the UN, the Houthi rebels also used indiscriminate weapons in urban areas. Both sides are accused of confiscating child soldiers.

The war has forced much of the population of Yemen to rely on food aid groups. The fighting also makes it difficult for aid groups to operate in the country. For months, the US aviation authority has warned against the increasing risk of widespread catastrophic famine.

20 million people are starving in Yemen in December, according to a press release from UNICEF, the World Food Program, the Government of Yemen and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Program (UN65F) 70 percent of Yemen's population is "food insecurity" , and at least 250,000 people "hardly survive".

"Any change in their circumstances, including disrupting their ability to access food regularly, is bringing them to the brink of death," said Lise Grande, humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, in the statement.

On Wednesday UNICEF published a grim update on the fate of children in Yemen.

"The living conditions of millions of children in Yemen are a shame," said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director. "There is no excuse for these dark realities in the 21st century: wars, deep economic crises, and decades of underdevelopment have not spared one girl or boy in Yemen, and the suffering of the children is all human."

Seven million children suffer from hunger, while 400,000 are exposed to "life-threatening acute malnutrition and die every minute."

"Are these numbers – and the stories behind them – actually important – has set the world in motion a long time ago," he said. "The interests of Yemeni children have not been considered in any decision for decades."

In the US, politicians recently re-evaluated America's support for Saudi Arabia's strikes in Yemen following the murder of Washington Post's columnist, Jamal Khashoggi.


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