UN envoy in Riyadh to lay groundwork for Yemen peace talks
Riyadh, Nov 26 (AFP) United Nations envoy Martin Griffiths met Yemeni officials in Riyadh on Monday as part of efforts to kick-start peace talks next month between Huthi rebels and the Saudi-backed government.
The visit comes as a tenuous calm settles over the rebel-held port city of Hodeida, a vital lifeline for imports and aid which had seen fierce clashes in a renewed offensive by a Saudi-led military coalition.
Under heavy international pressure, the Yemeni government and the coalition have largely suspended their five-month battle to seize Hodeida.
Griffiths, who is spearheading efforts to hold peace talks in Sweden in December, met Yemen's Vice President Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar and Foreign Minister Khalid al-Yamani in the Saudi capital, the Yemeni state-run news agency Saba said.
The Yemeni leaders discussed with Griffiths arrangements for the upcoming negotiations and possible "confidence building measures" to test the "rebels' seriousness" about peace efforts, Saba reported.
The UN envoy, who visited Hodeida last week to assess the humanitarian situation, was also expected to meet with Yemen's internationally recognised President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, a Saudi government source told AFP.
Fighting in the Red Sea city intensified in early November as coalition-backed loyalist forces attempted to enter the city, but calm returned after Griffiths arrived in Yemen on Wednesday.
Griffiths has urged the warring parties to "keep the peace" in Hodeida.
While the loyalist advance there has largely stalled, minor clashes have continued.
Military officials quoted by Saba on Sunday evening said the loyalists foiled a Huthi "infiltration attempt" into a camp in Hays, a district about 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Hodeida.
The rebels said they had detonated an explosive device near the eastern entrance of Hodeida, "destroying a (pro-government) military vehicle... killing and wounding soldiers inside", Huthi-run Al-Masirah TV reported on Monday.
Loyalists did not confirm the attack.
But pro-government military officials told AFP on Monday that their operations in the east and south of the Red Sea city had been suspended.
President Hadi -- whose UN-recognised government was pushed out of Sanaa by rebels who overran the capital in 2014 -- has said he supports the talks but has vowed to "liberate" Hodeida.
According to the World Health Organisation, nearly 10,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led intervention began, though some rights groups estimate the toll could be five times higher.
Humanitarian organisations are desperate to see the current peace push translate into a more permanent halt to the conflict.
UN agencies say 14 million Yemenis are at risk of starvation and the closure of Hodeida port would further exacerbate the humanitarian crisis.
The UN's World Food Programme said Friday it had distributed 30,000 food baskets -- each containing enough to feed a family of six for one month -- in Hodeida city.
The heads of the UN's humanitarian and children's agencies have said the recent de-escalation in fighting in Hodeida is providing a desperately needed respite to hundreds of thousands of civilians.
The current effort by Griffiths is the biggest push for a peace deal in Yemen in two years.
In September, a previous round of UN-led peace talks faltered when the Huthis refused to travel to Geneva, accusing the world body of failing to guarantee their delegation's return to Sanaa or secure the evacuation of wounded rebels to Oman.
Previous talks broke down in 2016, when 108 days of negotiations in Kuwait failed to yield a deal and left rebel delegates stranded in Oman for three months. (AFP)
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